Review, Christian Mason’s Flute Concerto – Thaleia, BBC NOW, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The BBC National Orchestra season has now officially ended in Cardiff. Whilst a showy wrap up was usually at St David’s Hall, we didn’t get it there this year due, to an ongoing cladding discrepancy. Most if not all concerts have been at Hoddinott Hall in the WMC this season and the year usually finishes with an extra concert there, though it would have ended there anyway. Are you following me?

The themes of Greek myth and a focus on the flute made up the evening. A Debussy heavy first half had the typical Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Opening with the famous theme for flute, the seven odd minutes are evocative and sweetly scented. This brief ballet caused a stir at its premiere, Nijinski the dancer always up to provoke. Our national orchestra seduces us in this opening gambit, they make it looks like child’s play. Following on was the French composer’s Nocturnes, a powerhouse display of orchestration through merriment, nature and seascapes. The final movement of Sirens sees the ladies of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales give into some lovely wooing. The sailors who would wreck their ships, are lured by said sirens and there song is an exquisite offering. It is…a bit mawkish, though I cannot deny my palette for these sirens.

With the composer present on the night, Christian Mason’s Flute Concerto, dubbed ‘Thaleia’ proved to be the real highlight. With same orchestration as the previous Debussy Prélude, the story is of Thaleia, the Naiad-nymph from Mount Etna, with her exploits with the stroppy, amorous Zeus. With Gergely Madaras conducting and his wife, Noémi Győri as soloist this was a personal and powerful conjuring. Playing both flute and piccolo, Győri is a sensation in what must be a deeply challenging role written for her. Trills, flutter tongue techniques and whispering harmonics were all part of the demands. Musically strange, crammed with earthy allure and with many dramatic bouts, I was thoroughly taken with this geeky, Greek mythological inspired oddity.

Madaras, who introduced all the music on the night, for the last venture bigged up Belgiam native César Franck. The orchestra has recorded some select scores in the past, though he doesn’t always get a lot of loving. That changed with our finale: Part 3 of his oratorio Psyché. A small, patient selection of the Gents of BBC National Chorus of Wales joined the mass of ladies for a gutsy showing. This was a taster of the full, proud work and it left wanting more. Madaras, who stirred all night, was most alive here. Some sumptuous bars were compelling, I just would like to hear the full hour long work.

Review aside – Next season, we kindly request we have physical programmes back and some of the lumbering, black microphone stands be moved away from the front of the orchestra.

Here’s to more music making in the Hoddinott!

Listen out for this concert in the near future on BBC Radio 3, then BBC Sounds for 30 days.

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