Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Peter Seabourne’s Symphony of Roses is given a triumphant world premiere by the Biel Solothurn Theatre Orchestra, Switzerland conducted by Kaspar Zehnder

I have had immense enjoyment reviewing the recordings of works by British composer, Peter Seabourne which I have found to be ‘compelling’ (Steps Volume 5: Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion) and ‘powerful and emotional’ (Pietà for viola and piano) (see links below for reviews).

The Sick Rose No. 5
by Azadeh Razaghdoost ©

Following on from the world premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 2 that received a tumultuous reception at Prague’s Martinů Hall (view at: Peter Seabourne’s Symphony of Roses received its triumphant world premiere on 18th May 2016, performed by the Biel Solothurn Theatre Orchestra, Switzerland  conducted by Kaspar Zehnder , the composer called back to the platform many times.

Peter Seabourne’s Symphony of Roses was written between 2011and 2014. Lasting around thirty minutes, its first two movements were influenced by William Butler Yeats’ poems, The Rose of Battle  and The Rose of Peace . It was a painting by the poet’s brother, Jack Yeats, A Rose Among Many Waters, that gave inspiration for the third and last movement.

Woodwind and brass weave a motif around bell chimes in the opening of The Rose of Battle before pizzicato strings join. The music pulls itself up into a longer breathed theme for strings with the Biel Solothurn Theatre Orchestra under Kaspar Zehnder providing a fine tautness of phrasing. The music seems to hover between pensive and more expansive passages, full of drama and increasing emotional heft. Soon there is a slackening of tension as a passage of intense sadness arrives. The music develops through a passage for woodwind, brass and pizzicato strings before gaining in weight in the lower orchestra. Bells are heard whilst a cor-anglais takes the melody, rising to a tremendously dramatic peak only to find a more relaxed gentle sad passage out of which a glorious melody emerges. The composer pulls together so many strands with pizzicato strings and bells appearing, before a side drum is heard. There is a wonderfully conceived passage where a myriad of instruments feed through the orchestral tapestry. The music increases in agitation, pointed up by side drum, finding much power before arriving at a series of incisive chords. The music suddenly lightens, there is the briefest of rests before a wonderfully glowing passage arrives where the cor anglais is heard, hushed bells then appearing in the in the coda.

A lone clarinet opens The Rose of Peace with a little questioning motif before the orchestra moves with the celeste adding a gentle line in music of intense yearning.  A cor-anglais weaves through the strings in this lovely theme, finding some exquisite moments with beautifully shaped ideas. Soon the music finds a strength as it rises, only to fall back with intense melancholy.  A little string ensemble weaves a lovely passage, shot through with woodwind before a lovely moment when a trumpet appears over the strings. The clarinet appears with its opening motif with a harp accompaniment as we are led to a quite wonderful hushed coda with chiming of bells.

There is an unsettled nature to the final movement, A Rose Among Many Waters, which opens with fast moving, vibrant pizzicato strings. These are soon joined by woodwind before the orchestra takes the theme in a more flowing passage. The pizzicato strings return before brass enter as the music increases in strength. There are pounding outbursts as the orchestral weight increases but soon the music falls to a melancholy passage for strings out of which woodwind bring some lovely phrases. A trumpet brings a heart rending theme over anxious strings before brass rise up bringing stabbing phrases. The strings lead quickly ahead, the orchestra getting increasingly dramatic with bass drum strokes. Bells chimes appear in a luminescent moment before the orchestra takes us to the sudden coda on a bass drum stroke.

This symphony is a tremendous work, full of drama, strength, poetry and intense tragedy, wonderfully structured. It is a work that reveals even more with repeated listening. It received a remarkably fine performance from Kaspar Zehnder and the Biel Solothurn Theatre Orchestra.

The whole symphony can be heard as part of a complete concert broadcast by SRF

The second movement can be seen in a video available on YouTube at:

See also:

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