BBC Phil / Schwarz review: el fascinante Pleasure Garden de Coult vuelve a la naturaleza

Tom Coult’s new Composer in Association role with the BBC Philharmonic commits him to three substantial works over the next three years, el primero de los cuales, Jardín de placer, recibió su estreno aquí.

The violin concerto, a co-commission from the orchestra and Salford University, and written to celebrate the recent opening of the RHS Garden Bridgewater in Salford, invites listeners to explore the relationship between nature and music, and debate the future of our green spaces. Coult explained in brief programme notes that he had steered clear of any attempt to “tell a story”, though the four sources that inspired each respective movement are entertaining tales in their own right, ranging from 14th-century organetto player Francesco Landini performing to a group of increasingly unruly birds, to the time Salford’s Worsley New Hall attempted to dye the orange, ore-stained Bridgewater canal blue to mark the visit of Queen Victoria.

The logic of Coult’s musical ideas alone wasn’t always enough to give the piece obvious direction, particularly through the first movement where green shoots of life from the violin were pruned vociferously by vertical stabs of orchestral sound. Much of the remaining three movements featured slower-moving textures, methodically crafted yet bewitchingly original. Coult’s writing is strongest when elaborately unravelling a sound’s constituent parts. The music has a Takemitsu-like quality in that regard, to which Coult adds his own mischievous touches. Violinist Daniel Pioro was an assured soloist, switching with ease between an embedded near-tutti role, and his position as the orchestra’s sparring partner.

Swiss-Australian conductor Elena Schwarz, in her debut with the orchestra, made her way carefully through Kurt Weill’s rarely performed second symphony. The piece sees Weill in transition, moving away from orchestral music and towards the stage, and the Philharmonic’s soloists added just enough of the jazzy swagger that would come to define his later work.

Schwarz’s fleet-footed presence on the podium was better suited to the evocative strains of Ravel’s ballet Mother Goose, which brought some gorgeous playing from the Philharmonic – special mention for harpist Clifford Lantaff, equal to the varied demands set by Ravel and Coult. You’d be hard pressed to find a more lovely end to a programme than the conclusion of Ravel’s score, where Sleeping Beauty is awoken by her Prince Charming.

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