Classical: In the rhythm of the night
Tuesday 24 August 1999
FROM FIVE concerts in three days, an unlikely Mozart concerto and a slice of jazz history stood out. Charles Neidich, a short man with a long instrument, bumbled around like Woody Allen but played the basset clarinet with extraordinary refinement. At first his Mozart Clarinet Concerto was fussy, but he phrased the slow movement with simplicity and beauty, ornamentation growing naturally from expressive need.
It upstaged the Bruckner Symphony No 9 in Thursday's early evening Prom. The Royal Philharmonic warmly applauded Daniele Gatti, who drew fine sound, but Bruckner needs a sense of harmonic direction. All the climaxes were much the same and, except in the scherzo, the speeds didn't gel. It was obliterated by the late-night Prom as the BBC Big Band put its own stamp - boisterous and not over-reverent - on Duke Ellington's music. It was a long wait for the guest trumpeter Clark Terry, a Basie and Ellington veteran , but his set quickly caught fire. You almost forgot how tokenistic the appearance was.
After this sustained rhythmic energy, Friday's heavy Bartk Piano Concerto No 3 with Pierre-Laurent Aimard just ain't got that swing, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Martyn Brabbins did a more focused job for the few quiet minutes of Gyorgy Kurtg's Messages. The last whispers of post- war new international classical music, perhaps; starting with a perfect epigram, the music seemed to distil 50 years' worth of harmonic wisdom into a still small voice, a handful of long-considered chords and brief hints of violin melody, as though that was all that could honestly be said now.
Most premieres feel more local, taking, for instance, British music into wider but established territory. Take David Matthews' confident Symphony No 5, the centrepiece of the Britten Sinfonia's debut Prom on Saturday. The steady, string-propelled vigour of its opening seemed to be moving the Elgarian heritage forward, but as the work grew, the nearest comparison that came to mind was Roussel: colourful, weighty and sometimes flamboyant orchestral sound carried terse thinking with terrific drive. Matthews' unusual flair for rhythm allowed the symphony's beginning and end - surrounding a spiky scherzo and a slow movement of rich but stolid melody - to make the strongest immediate impression.
Conducted by Nicholas Cleobury, the Sinfonia also brought deft Ravel (Le tombeau de Couperin)and Britten (Ian Bostridge suavely singing Les Illuminations), plain, hasty Mozart, and an encore from Milhaud's Carnaval de Londres which set "Over the Hills and Far Away" as a samba.
Saturday's late-night Prom was an absorbing sequence of choral and organ music in which the BBC Singers struggled in impossibly over-laden Strauss and prospered in Bax and Poulenc, and David Goode relished the chance to play Jehan Alain's searing Litanies on the Albert Hall house monster. The surprise pleasure was Alpha and Omega by Carl Rutti, building apparently simple material into intensely personal climaxes - with shades of Maurice Durufle, of much-loved Requiem fame.
Thursday's and Friday's early evening Proms will be rebroadcast on Radio 3 at 2pm on Thursday and Friday respectively
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