Arts: Classical: Mad kings and smashing violins

Endless Parade Purcell Room, London: Composer Choice Rfh, London
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The Independent Culture
IMPORTANT FIVE-year-old works by two of the most significant British composers of the past 50 years dominated the Endless Parade programme, following Thomas Ades's four-minute "These Premises are Alarmed", which made a lively opener. The performance - dynamically conducted by Martyn Brabbins - of Peter Maxwell Davies's Fifth Symphony confirmed this 25- minute work as one of its creator's best pieces of recent years.

Here, Davies achieves an almost ideal balance of the opposites and contradictions which justify a work's symphonic status. Juggling three different speeds over a continuous span consisting of no fewer than 34 sections, he makes a very convincing whole out of very disparate parts. Considerable textural clarity allows the thematic material and at least something of its constant processes of transformation to be traced, while the unengaging spareness which was a fault in the Third Symphony is replaced by an ingenious kaleidoscope of timbres.

In the second half, Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra were joined by three vocal soloists - Valdine Anderson, Susan Bickley and Peter Bronder - in the premiere of "Love Cries" from The Second Mrs Kong: a concert version, made by Michael Berkeley, of music from Harrison Birtwistle's 1994 opera. Taking the three love duets as his chief source, Berkeley has skilfully woven these into a continuous 40-minute structure, providing some deft elaborations of Birtwistle's material where necessary. "Love Cries" makes a dramatically varied and sometimes strongly emotional impression, imaginatively deploying a large orchestra in which accordion and cimbalom feature prominently. It should give a further lease of life to an opera which, in the nature of things, is unlikely to be seen regularly in the theatre. An equally incisive performance was marred only by some rather insensitive amplification of the voices.

Davies and Birtwistle themselves made a rare, possibly unique, joint appearance in an unusually informative pre-concert discussion, also including Berkeley, over which Jonathan Cross presided with insight and efficiency. On the previous evening, Davies had also supplied some interesting new information on the composition of Seven in Nomine and Eight Songs for a Mad King, the two works of his in another of the Endymion Ensemble's Composer Choice series.

This well-attended Purcell Room programme was most notable for a chance to see the now 30-year-old Eight Songs, not much performed these days, in Kelvin Thomas's highly charged, if somewhat contrived and unspontaneous- seeming, interpretation.

In Tim Carroll's staging, minimum movement sometimes produced maximum impact: the soberly dressed Thomas didn't shift from his single spotlight until he walked over to smash the suitably appalled-looking violinist's (spare) instrument. As throughout the evening, Quentin Poole drew powerful playing from these first-rate performers. A shame that there was no honky- tonk piano, though.

Keith Potter

Correction: Due to a production error, a picture of pianist Stan Tracey was wrongly used to illustrate John L Walters' review of Ellington Now in Monday's paper