Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A moment of breath - premiere of Anahata by Eloise Nancie Gynn

Eloise Nancie Glynn
Eloise Nancie Glynn
Commissioned by the Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, conducted by Nicholas Collon, and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, Anahata by Eloise Nancie Gynn was a moment of breath on a cold and frantic spring evening (24 March 2013). Anahata was premiered at the start of a concert which continued with Manfred Honeck conducting Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and Brahms's Violin Concerto with Nikolaj Znaider. 

It may have been close to freezing outside but sat on one of Barbican’s sofa-like seats Anahata was the perfect meditational moment to bring everything back into focus. Nancie studied composition at Cardiff University and her interests in experimental percussion and extended wind techniques, along with her love of world music and nature have come together in a beautifully meditational work.

Anahata means ‘heart chakra’ in Sanskrit and is represented by the element ‘air’. It is the idea of air and of meditational breath which recurs throughout the work – in the unpitched wind and brass, in the subtle changing of motif, in the space between the notes, in the rattling of con legno strings, the haunting bowed percussion and hollow marimba.

The atmospheric beginning was almost ghostly, but in this ever changing piece nothing is quite as it seems. The oboe theme dancing around an Indian raga is transformed through different instrumentations representing the ever changing but always repeating circle of life. A moment is reminiscent of gamelan, another of sinuous Eastern street music. As life takes over the music becomes denser but, relaxing once more, the soundscape settles into temple music, a revisiting of opening motifs, and a Hindu mantra traced out by a cello quartet. Returning to clarity, the sound is restored to air and in the composer’s words ‘to sanctuary where we can observe life without getting caught up in its dramas’.

At only 9 minutes long I could have listened longer. But the point of the Panufik commissions is to give the opportunity to six young composers each year, under the guidance of composer Colin Matthews and conductor François-Xavier Roth, to collaborate with the musicians of the LSO and develop their orchestral writing skills. The scheme was set up in 2005 by the LSO and Camilla, Lady Panufnik, in memory of her husband, the composer Sir Andrzej Panufnik who died in 1991, in collaboration with the Helen Hamlyn Trust.

The rest of the programme, conducted by Manfred Honeck, rather than the advertised Sir Colin Davis who is still recovering from illness, was by no means shabby. Franz Schubert’s (1787-1828) Unfinished Symphony written in 1822 shone with precision. The composition seemed simplistic in comparison to ‘Anahata’, and reminded me of my youth orchestra days, but it takes skill and sympathy to bring this work out of the amateur sphere. The audience was clearly very pleased, with applause even between the movements.

Why Schubert gave up after only two movements is anybody’s guess. The Unfinished is very lyrical, very much in the style of lieder such as Die junge Nonne, especially the second movement with its hints of traditional folk music. But the contrast between the two movements can only leave the listener wondering what would happen next if Schubert had decided to finish it.

Nikolaj Znaider’s exceptional virtuosity brought vitality to the Violin Concerto in D major by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). There was nothing sing-able here. Barely have themes been heard before they are transformed into long developments, which merge from one to another, sometimes by the orchestra, sometimes the soloist, or both together. The cadenza is left to the imagination of the soloist and Nikolaj Znaider did not disappoint. His crowd pleaser version was astonishing, leading to more applause. The Adagio of the second movement was followed by a Hungarian-inspired Rondo, although with an ‘off’ rhythm which would make it difficult to dance to.
After the bows Nikolaj returned to present us with a lovely version of Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685 – 1728) Sarabanda from Partita No. 2 for solo violin. His interpretation was full of contrasts and brought out the playful nature at the heart of this dance.

Well done to Nancie, I look forward to hearing what she composes next, to Nikolaj, and to the LSO for an evening of contrasts. 
review by Hilary Glover

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