America seems to have a wealth of talented composers that are currently sailing over the waters and another composer sailed over this evening: 32 year old Andrew Norman whose composition 'Unstuck' gave its UK premiere. Heavy brass and percussion, as with most contemporary classical music, took most of the fame with a solo spot for the principal cellist. The score is marked 'recklessly fast' something that our bright baby-faced young conductor, Andrew Gourlay, was able to pull off. The strings and brass had some complimenting phrases though the composition strayed into an instrumental solo that took away its substance. There were moments of utter triumph, though, there were also moments of deliberately harsh textured passages which I didn't appreciate - but let's face it, I'm a sucker for a bit of melody - despite it's rather savvy outlook I wasn't entirely satisfied.
A day earlier, it was announced that star violinist Daniel Hope would be extending his exclusive contract with record label Deutsche Grammophon but tonight he performed Britten's Violin Concerto with a lack of empathy and despite the orchestras good form the piece seemed cold until the final movement where Hope soared through the tragically indulgent passacaglia finale.
Shostakovich's portrait of tyrant dictator Stalin is the context of his Symphony No.10 in E minor. The work is monumental and overwhelming with movements imagining the terror and anguish of the Russian people painting clear images of political revolution, poverty and war. Tonight the previously described baby-faced conductor, making his debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Gourlay became a man during this vastly immense work. I became completely emotionally consumed by this performance, bold and vivid, tremendous and overwhelming. The second, allegro, movement was set at an ideal tempo with booming phrases. The last movement began saggy with a badly paced tempo however there was a stirring oboe solo from Richard Simpson and warm-hearted melody from bassoonist Julie Price. The clarinet opens an evidently major section, a symbol of light and hope though heavy brass and strings passages in the minor interrupt our bliss and Shostakovich drags us into 20th century Russia's horrific realities. The orchestra, throughout, remained faultless fearlessly led by young and, now, respected maestro Andrew Gourlay.
Across the pond in New York the Metropolitan Opera presented its new baroque pastiche 'The Enchanted Island'. Jeremy Sams' cleverly crafted operatic revue involved the entire cast in its creation in what Sams described as "mash-up" opera with William Christie in complete control in the pit.
The cast was impressive though countertenor David Daniels' performance was flawed by untidy shaped vowels and unclear embellishment. Joyce DiDonato was resplendent in voice and character even as an evil witch she is a pleasure to see and hear, she is truly one of the greatest singers of our time. Danielle de Niese was sublime with firework embellishment that filled her role along with Luca Pisaroni as Caliban whose characterisation and vocal premise was nothing short of astounding; Pisaroni's voice is one of the greatest bass voices of recent times. Placido Domingo seemed dazed and confused in his role as Neptune and was barely understood (thank goodness for the surtitles).
This was another incredibly vivid and digital production by the Metropolitan Opera; these technological set designs by Julian Crouch and 59 Productions gave the production greater stead. Jeremy Sams' libretto left the production somewhat redundant, often expand phrases with the English language though their musical effort were extraordinarily brilliant and deserves praise. The production, actually, was hilariously entertaining with all the elements of baroque opera that makes it such a marvelous era. In fact, this production is an elaborate and eccentric showcase of some of the best baroque talent in all of opera.
Follow Paul Hewitt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/phewittttt