Wednesday 26 September 2018

Huw Watkins - Two concertos and a symphony

Huw Watkins - Two concertos and a symphony - NMC
Huw Watkins Concertos and Symphony; Adam Walker, Alina Ibragimova, Halle, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Ryan Wigglesworth, Edward Gardner; NMC Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 September 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Fine craftsmanship, technical bravura and lyricism in these three symphonic works from Huw Watkins

This new disc from NMC brings together three substantial symphonic works by the Welsh composer Huw Watkins, the Flute Concerto which is performed by Adam Walker (flute) and the Halle conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, the Violin Concerto which is performed by violinist Alina Ibragimova and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner and recorded live at the BBC Proms, and the Symphony performed by the Halle conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth.

Born in Wales in 1976, Watkins studied both piano and composition, the latter with Robin Holloway, Alexander Goehr and Julian Anderson at Cambridge and the Royal College of Music, and he has gained a reputation both as a composer and as a distinguished pianist. In fact, both the concertos on this disc were written for soloists with whom Watkins had developed a performing relationship in chamber music. Both concertos have a strongly virtuosic element, yet paradoxically both come over as rather pastoral too with a strong lyrical element in Watkins' writing.

Watkins and flautist Adam Walker (principal flute of the London Symphony Orchestra) premiered Watkins' Capriccio for flute and piano at the Greynog Festival in  2010 and Walker enjoyed it so much that he commissioned the concerto from Watkins. The work was premiered by Adam Walker and the London Symphony Orchestra, conductor Daniel Harding, in 2014. It is a three-movement, virtuosic work, the opening Allegro molto has a dazzlingly busy flute part which is placed centre stage with Watkins using some strikingly spare orchestra textures to ensure the flute's role in proceedings. He successfully combines the lyrical pastoral with dramatic moments, and the work develops a very particular sound quality. In the lovely Andante, lyricism is to the fore even though the flute part is again restless (the picture of Adam Walker that the solo part paints is one of unceasing energy!), over lovely slow moving orchestral textures, eventually slowing down for a meditative moment. The final Allegro molto finishes things off in a lively and characterful way.

Watkins' Violin Concerto preceded the Flute Concerto, being written in 2010 for Alina Ibragimova, a violinist with whom Watkins had forged a strong working relationship. The work was premiered at the BBC Proms in 2010 and the recording of that performance is the one on this disc. Again in three movements, the opening Allegro molto starts in vigorous fashion with strong spiky rhythms, yet there are lyrical moments and the whole movement balances these two, strenuous vigour and lyricism, all given with a high energy that is perhaps reflective of Ibragimova's playing. The middle movement Andante is full of poignant lyricism, yet even here there is energy too, whilst the spirited final movement is again vigorous and melodic by turns. Watkins' scoring here is often transparent, spotlighting the bravura solo line, dazzlingly played by Ibragimova.

The final work on the disc is Watkins' Symphony, which was commissioned by the Halle and premiered by them, conducted by Sir Mark Elder, in 2017. In two movements, the opening Allegro molto features a lively and highly rhythmic texture with a highly infectious rhythmic energy being a constant throughout the movement despite some thoughtful moments. Watkins' scoring creates rather an open-air feel to the music with hints of perhaps Copland. These hints continue in the second movement, Lento, but here you feel Tippett also looking over Watkins' shoulder. The movement is lyrical and relaxed with some lovely textures, yet with drama too and Watkins ends the movement in highly dramatic fashion.

These three are all beautifully crafted, intelligent works, and Watkins seems to know his two soloists intimately so that the results are very personal. Both soloists give dazzling performances of technically bravura parts and are finely supported by their relevant orchestra, with the Halle giving a strong and convincing account of Watkins' symphony. This is a disc which showcases a remarkable talent combined with traditional genres given new life.

Huw Watkins (born 1976) - Flute Concerto (2013) [22:19]
Huw Watkins - Violin Concerto (2010) [22.25]
Huw Watkins - Symphony (2017) [21.54]
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
Adam Walker (flute)
The Halle/Ryan Wigglesworth
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
Recorded Halle St Peters 4-6 September 2017, BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall 17 August 2010
NMC D224 1CD [67.02]

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • Vital & optimistic: Halle Children's Choir in Jonathan Dove's A Brief History of Creation (★★★½) - CD review
  • Late Romantic: I chat to pianist Margaret Fingerhut  - Interview
  • Decades - songs from 1830-1840, Malcolm Martineau and friends  (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Juditha resurgens: William Vann on reviving Parry's Judith - article
  • Mahler distilled: Iain Farrington and Rozana Madylus in "On Angels' Wings" (★★★½)  - concert review
  • A pastoral delight: Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne in its original version from The Mozartists  (★★★½)  - concert review
  • The other Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera's revival of Isouard's Cendrillon (★★★½) - opera review
  • More than just Haydn: cultural revival at Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt  - feature
  • Riveting and remarkable: Anna Prohaska & Eric Schneider in An der Front at Herbst Gold in Eisenstadt (★★★★★) - concert review 
  • Haydn at Eisenstadt: Armida at Herbst Gold festival Schloss Esterházy (★★★★) - Opera review
  • From Haydn and Elgar to Rap and Grime: Matthew O'Keeffe and Brixton Chamber Orchestra  - interview
  • Music, puppets & poetry: Goldfield Productions' Hansel & Gretel - a nightmare in eight scenes  - interview
  • In search of the Great American Opera, the strange case of Samuel Barber's Vanessa - feature
  •  Home

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