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Home / Latest News / Review: BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff

Review: BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff

Does the innocent optimism of youth inevitably decline into to world-weary disillusionment of old age?

It was a question that might have crossed the mind at this concert which took as its theme first and last thoughts, or entrances and exits.

The selected exits, as Welsh writer Gwyn Thomas might have put it, were the final works of Bartok and Prokofiev which were set against the first symphony of the young Dutch composer, Otto Ketting who died last year.

Based on this music and this performance, the answer to the question is probably no.

The darkest and most troubling work was in fact the Ketting opus, a one-movement symphony that harked back to the doom-laden world of Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces.

Regarded as the first Dutch example of twelve-tone serialism (rarely the most cheerful composition technique) the symphony was a brooding work which ebbed and flowed, beginning and ending in sombre mood.

It was superbly realised by the orchestra under the baton of Ketting’s fellow Dutchman, Jac van Steen.

Steen, who knew Ketting, had a deep understanding of the music which he conveyed to both orchestra and audience.

It was followed by an effervescent performance by French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet of Bartok’s Piano Concerto No 3, a work he struggled to complete before he died.

A man of middle age, Bavouzet tackled the livelier sections of the work with a youthful enthusiasm. He was as bubbly as a bottle of the best Champagne, more than once jumping up from his piano stool in his excitement.

If this meant his performance of this lyrical and largely optimistic work was not always note perfect, it didn’t matter.

The virtuosic Bavouzet displayed a tenderness and lightness of touch in the Adagio religioso movement that was truly moving.

Conductor van Steen is a tall man who reminded one of a traffic policeman keeping the traffic flowing.

He was certainly in control of this performance of Prokofiev’s final symphony.

Conductor and orchestra grasped the essential simplicity of a subtle and contemplative work, composed by an ill man looking back over his life, concentrating on the meaningful essentials. The unsettling ending certainly gave one pause for thought.

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