Classical review: BBC SSO, City Halls

Ilan Volkovwas conducting this year at the BBC SSO

Ilan Volkovwas conducting this year at the BBC SSO

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THE Seven Stars Symphony by French composer Charles Koechlin is not something you hear every day.

BBC SSO | Rating: **** | City Halls

It is a complete original in two ways: the irrepressible malleability of Koechllin’s musical style – a frenzied synthesis of prevailing early 20thcentury European styles; and the fact that it is effectively a soundtrack honouring seven Hollywood greats, from Clara Bow to Garbo, Dietrich and Chaplin.

It was the big finale to Thursday’s BBC SSO concert; a programme right up conductor Ilan Volkov’s street, boldly original and thought-provoking, that opened with Dukas’ scorchingly-scored The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The performance took time to warm up, but when it did, sparks flew.

The unexpected sensation was Unsuk Chin’s mesmerising Clarinet Concerto with the breathtaking soloist, Finnish clarinettist Kari Krikku. Chin creates a sound world that is ripe and intoxicating, the orchestral palate like a vibrant soundboard for the dizzy virtuosity of the main protagonist, and clarinet playing that unrelentingly challenges the instrument’s tonal and technical limits.

In the remarkable slow movement, Hymnos, characterised by the clarinet’s multiphonic double-stopping, the effect was mind-blowing, literally out of this world. A majorly impressive piece, and a performance, particularly by the versatile Krikku, to match.

It paved the way for the uncapped eccentricity of Koechlin’s symphony, its character movements ranging from the Poulenc-like neo-classicism of Lilian Harvey to the cinematically moody Greta Garbo – featuring one of the earliest uses of the ethereal ondes martenot – and ending with an extended tribute to Charlie Chaplin that was like pathos on speed.

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