Proms 2021: Unsuk Chin – Subito con forza (UK Première)

by 5:4

The penultimate première of this year’s Proms took place yesterday evening, in the form of a short, entertaining concert-opener courtesy of South Korean composer Unsuk Chin. Composed last year as part of the commemorations marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, Chin’s Subito con forza flirts with a number of oblique references to Beethoven’s music in the course of its rapid-fire dash through a number of discrete episodes, presented almost like a catalogue of competing ideas.

Yet the piece is less about quotation than celebrating, and mirroring, the indomitable attitude of one of music’s truly great innovators. Chin has sought to embody one of the key defining characteristics of Beethoven’s music: the restless, relentless fire and energy that propels his music with seemingly unstoppable force. This is articulated, as the title implies, via a connected sequence of sudden shifts, as if Chin had taken a collection of little ideas from her sketch books and decided to find a way to bolt them all together.

Thus, the opening octave Cs from the Coriolan overture are violently overturned in a burst of wild clatter, which in turn yields to soft, weirdly regular, ominous chords, whereupon further mayhem is channelled into fast driving strings. A moment of Romantic piano solo showboating gets disrupted, but the pianist manages to make off at speed, leaving the rest of the orchestra trying to keep up, shortly after culminating in a gloriously rude series of loud tutti raspberries. It’s not the specifics of Subito con forza that matter most, though, it’s the volte-face caprice of its behaviour, which entirely lives up to the dauntless spirit of Beethoven.

Everything subito, everything con forza – and just when you’re starting to wonder whether, that being the case, this might actually start to undermine the subito and the con forza, we’re already into the work’s final spasms, a dying back to soft string chords that, following a tubular bell trigger, explodes to leave a dense morass of string ‘stuff’ that improbably resolves into a C minor triad. Aggressive, disorienting and hugely entertaining; Beethoven would no doubt have approved.

The first UK performance of Subito con forza was given by the Hallé conducted by Mark Elder.


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Unsuk Chin - Subito con forza
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