Concertos are a regular feature among the new works heard at the Proms, but it’s rare to hear one for two pianos; Richard Dubugnon’s Battlefield Concerto, composed for those most characterful & quirky of siblings, Katia & Marielle Labèque, was therefore a refreshing break from the norm. It was given its first UK performance a little over a week ago by the Labèques with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, directed by Semyon Bychkov.
Dubugnon’s is a highly-structured, programmatic work, & this very aspect needs addressing at the outset, as it presents two significant difficulties. First, while Dubugnon has sought to follow “the various hypothetical stages of a 15th-century battle”, his schema is far more apparent on paper than it is in sound. That is to say, the variety & juxtaposition of moods brought to bear on the principal material is such that it seems to challenge & ultimately undermine these stages, making them difficult to follow as well as blurring their distinctiveness. The second problem, parallel to the first, is the way this approach negates the emotional consequences of war; considering the plethora of large-scale & miniature conflicts we have seen even in just the last few years, & their appalling aftermaths, is to make the Battlefield Concerto seem blasé to an almost ridiculous degree.
However, all is by no means lost; if one uncouples from Dubugnon’s programme, & approaches the work purely as a concerto for two pianos & orchestra, it becomes entirely transformed. The concerto form has always been supremely effective at exploring notions of sonic conflict, & what we now hear is a fascinating & logical work dominated by a central pair of conflicting materials, which have bifurcated the entire orchestra. It’s almost like hearing a sonata in medias res, thrown headlong into the midst of the development section, with first & second subjects spilling over & around each other with varying amounts of malevolence. Each side clings to its material doggedly, & the encounters that befall each of them—jostling as they are for predominance—is dramatic &, at times, downright thrilling. In part this is due to Dubugnon’s deft handling of his twin strands of musical thought (the passage where they’re brought inexorably closer together is especially captivating), but also by the breadth of stylistic colourations he throws into the mix, which—aside from the brief moments where Grieg seems to be evoked—makes both its content & its appeal more all-consuming.
Perhaps it’s a shame not to be able to buy into the detailed programme Richard Dubugnon has devised, but ignoring it enables the Battlefield Concerto to be heard for what it is, an exciting, brilliantly vivid concerto rooted in the greatest strengths & indeed the very essence of its idiom.
Richard Dubugnon – Battlefield Concerto (UK Première)
Richard Dubugnon – Battlefield Concerto
- Loved it! (21%, 3 Votes)
- Liked it (36%, 5 Votes)
- Meh (14%, 2 Votes)
- Disliked it (21%, 3 Votes)
- Hated it! (7%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 14