The centenary of the founding of the BBC was marked on 18 October (it did not start broadcasting for another month), so Dalia Stasevska and the BBC Symphony opened their Barbican concert with the world premiere of Iain Farrington’s A Party with Auntie, an engaging little curtain-raiser, originally scheduled for the eventually cancelled Last Night of this year’s Proms, and now a late addition to Friday’s programme. Great fun, it’s essentially a pot pourri of TV and radio themes wedged together, often in profuse counterpoint and frequently revamped stylistically: the EastEnders theme, for instance, turns big band, and ends up sounding very louche and sleazy.
It was not, however, the evening’s only premiere, as it was followed by the first UK performance of Glorious Clouds by Dai Fujikura, Japanese-born, British-based, and frequently drawn to science for his subject matter. Glorious Clouds takes its inspiration from the movement and collection of micro-organisms within the human body in a handsomely scored piece in which constantly morphing textures, sometimes reminiscent of Debussy or Scriabin, coalesce into static chords and monotones before breaking apart and reforming. Much of it is superbly crafted, though the central section, with its repetitive high string glissandos, outstays its welcome a bit. Tightly controlled by Stasevska, it was finely done, with plenty of detailed virtuosity in the playing.
Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Sibelius’s First Symphony formed the rest of the programme, the two works sharing the same key of E minor. Sol Gabetta was the beautiful-sounding soloist in the Elgar, gradually settling into a performance of considerable nobility and intensity after a low-key start that didn’t hit home emotionally quite as powerfully as it should. Stasevska, at times fractionally too deliberate here, is perhaps not a natural Elgarian on this showing, but she’s absolutely in her element in Sibelius, whose First was simply electrifying from start to finish. This was real edge-of-your-seat stuff from the ricocheting theme that launches the first movement’s allegro to the extraordinary ending, where the music lurches to its close on two still shocking pizzicato chords. In between came tremendous beauty in the Tchaikovskyan slow movement, and breathtaking exhilaration in the scherzo. Outstanding.