BBC Orchestra takes a sea voyage

music April 22, 2017 01:00

By Alice Kerdplanant
Special to The Nation

Mendelssohn’s majestic marine journey among highlights of Mahidol concerts

THE BBC Symphony Orchestra’s concerts at Mahidol University’s Prince Mahidol Hall on March 28 and 29 featured guest conductor Edward Gardner and pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. 

The orchestra performed eight pieces, varying over the two days. The show I saw on March 29 included “Kinari Suite”, “Festive Overture, Op 96”, “Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor”, “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage” and “Enigma Variations, Op 36”. 

His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej composed and arranged “Kinari Suite” for the ballet “Manora”. After its debut in 1959, performed by the Royal Thai Navy Orchestra, the suite was presented by the NQ Tonkunstler Orchestra and broadcast on Austrian radio on October 3, 1964. 

This work truly demonstrates the late monarch’s talents in diverse musical styles, not only jazz but also classical. “Kinari Suite” begins with a dreamy romantic melody and slowly becomes more adventurous. 

“Festive Overture” by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich was written to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution in the Soviet Union. Shostakovich wrote the piece in just three days, and only a few days before its premiere. The overture opens with a brass fanfare, followed by rapid texture. After the coda, the piece ends dramatically. 

Briton Benjamin Grosvenor gave a lovely rendering of “Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor”, one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s most honoured concertos and well known in the 19th century. Its use of D minor, a rarity for Mozart, associates the piece with dusky, threatening and esoteric emotions. 


The work is in the traditional three-movement form – allegro, romanze and allegro assai. The first movement, in sonata form, never sounds joyful. This part is indeed unique, as it was unexpected from Mozart, who normally composed joyful pieces. 

The romanze is a five-part rondo with coda. The melody is tender and warm as the name “romanze” suggests. The last movement is in rondo form. It shows an alternative between the spirit of the first two movements, ending in a D major finale. 

“Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage” by Felix Mendelssohn was inspired by a pair of poems of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and brings to the listener’s mind visions of a ship sailing at sea. 

The piece is divided into two clear sections – the slow, calm opening and the rough, vivacious late segment. The coda can be interpreted as the ship reaching its destination, ending the “prosperous voyage”. 

“Enigma Variations, Op 36” by Edward Elgar had its premiere in England in 1899. The piece is constructed around 13 variations of the main theme, meant to characterise Elgar’s various friends. It’s admired as one of his most ambitious pieces.