Friday 13 October 2023

A lovely artist portrait: Dobrinka Tabakova's orchestral works featured on a new disc from the Hallé & Delyana Lazarova

Dobrinka Tabakova: Orpheus’ Comet, Concerto for Viola and Strings, Earth Suite, Concerto for Cello and Strings; Maxim Rysanov, Guy Johnston, Hallé, Delyana Lazarova; Hallé

Dobrinka Tabakova: Orpheus’ Comet, Concerto for Viola and Strings, Earth Suite, Concerto for Cello and Strings; Maxim Rysanov, Guy Johnston, Hallé, Delyana Lazarova; Hallé

Two large-scale orchestral works alongside more intimate concertos for soloist and strings on this lovely artist portrait disc from the Hallé

This new album on the Hallé's own label represents the culmination of two Hallé collaborations, with Delyana Lazarova (Hallé Assistant Conductor 2020-23) and composer Dobrinka Tabakova (Hallé Artist in Residence 2022-23). Both were both born in the historic city of Plovdiv, Bulgaria and worked together for the first time during their time with the orchestra. The disc features two of Tabakova's major orchestral works, Orpheus' Comet and Earth Suite, along with two concertos for soloist and strings, the Concerto for Viola and Strings with soloist Ukrainian-British viola player Maxim Rysanov who premiered the work in 2004, and the Concerto for Cello and Strings with cellist Guy Johnston.

Written in 2017, Orpheus’ Comet was the first piece written as part of Tabakova's residency with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Commissioned by the BBC and the European Broadcasting Union, it was written for the 50th anniversary of the regular Music Exchanges and features the opening of Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo, which is the signature melody of Euradio. 

Tabakova's researches found that one of the earliest mentions of the Orpheus legend came in Book IV of Virgil's Georgics, a book that begins with a study of the life of bees, and this buzzing of bees features strongly in the work. The work begins with this sense of busy excitement, a slow chorale appears and is then combined with the buzzing figure. The subsequent development has something of a filmic quality, a feeling of drama unfolding, leading to the climax with the version of the toccata from Orfeo.

Tabakova wrote her Concerto for Viola and Strings in 2004, when it was premiered by Maxim Rysanov with the Russia Chamber Orchestra of London, conductor Julian Gallant, at St John's Smith Square. Rysanov and Tabakova studied together at the Guildhall School, and before the concerto he had already commissioned a number of chamber works from her.

The first movement, marked Confident, begins with intense, sustained strings but the soloist's entry fills the movement with vivid energy, the colour and movement including some rather bluesy hints. The passages of the soloist against strong articulated accompaniment recall the string writing of Sir Michael Tippett, not a bad model at all. The second movement, Passionate and nostalgic is quite contemplative yet with quite a complex texture, a lovely lyrical solo line over string counterpoint that develops into something rather intense. The third movement, Light runs straight into the fourth, Triumphant. The third movement is perkily characterful, the lightest of the work's four movement, and whilst the atmosphere continues in the fourth movement, the tempo increases and we get a sense of controlled excitement throughout the work, with the soloist's contributions getting rather intense.

The result is a work that has a strong character and makes virtuosic use of Rysanov's viola in a way that viola concertos often do not, and I do hope that Rysanov's espousal of it nearly 20 years after the premiere might signal further performance possibilities.

Earth Suite brings together three works that Tabakova wrote during her time working with the BBC Concert Orchestra, each movement inspired by an aspect of nature - Tectonic (2018), Pacific (2020), Timber & Steel (2019). Tectonic, inspired by the shifting of tectonic plates, begins quietly with the use of insistent rhythms and silence. Tabakova builds her musical structure in layers, the strong rhythmic elements shifting to give overall changes in texture, developing into vivid excitement. The result, one of the first larger works she wrote for orchestra, is a remarkable complex, multi-layered work. Pacific, is inspired by the calm surface of the ocean, moving from Tectonics use of the vertical to a concentration on the horizontal. Starting deep, quiet and dark, a fluid wind melody appears and undulates over the orchestral texture in a manner recalling Malcolm Arnold's symphonic writing. Despite the appealing melody, the mood remains sombre yet with lots of interesting textures. Timber & Steel was written to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sir Henry Wood's birth in 1869, its title reflecting both his nickname and the move from timber to steel during his lifetime. Colourful tuned percussion (wooden marimbas) create a busy toccata contrasting with a different motif in the brass (steel). Multi-layered again, there is a sense of excitement and drive in the music, with lots of drama and again hints of the influence of symphonic Malcolm Arnold.

The Concerto for Cello and Strings was written in 2008, four years after the viola concerto. Though in three movements, fast, slow, fast - Turbulent, Longing, Radiant - Tabakova says that she prefers to think of the work in one continuous arc.

The first movement presents the soloist in almost continuous dialogue with the orchestra, in vividly strenuous material alternating with more lyrical moments, though the sense of forward momentum, of busyness, remains. The way the soloist and ensemble interact recalls more the Baroque concerto than more Romantic models. The slow movement is quietly sustained with a lovely singing solo line over. Textures get complex, yet still the cello sings, sometimes quite high; listening blind you might initially wonder which string instrument it is. The final movement begins spare yet intense, but vivid writing for the soloist dominates, leading to a wonderfully exciting conclusion. A lovely work, combining lyricism and virtuosity, it receives a fine performance indeed from Guy Johnston who plays with wonderful aplomb.

Dobrinka Tabakova at recording sessions with the Hallé in September 2022  (Photo: Alex Burns/Hallé )
Dobrinka Tabakova at recording sessions with the Hallé in September 2022  (Photo: Alex Burns/Hallé )

This is a lovely disc, giving us the chance to hear some of Tabakova's more recent large-scale orchestra music alongside earlier, more intimate chamber orchestra type works, and it represents a wonderful product of her period as Hallé artist in residence.

Dobrinka Tabakova (born 1980) - Orpheus’ Comet
Dobrinka Tabakova - Concerto for Viola and Strings
Dobrinka Tabakova - Earth Suite
Dobrinka Tabakova - Concerto for Cello and Strings
Maxim Rysanov (viola)
Guy Johnston (cello)
Delyana Lazarova (conductor)
Cello concerto recorded 25 September 2022, live in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, all other works recorded 12-14 September 2022 in Hallé St. Peter’s, Manchester
CD HLL7562 1CD [79.59]

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