Classical Music: On The Air: Faure gets the full Monty

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The Independent Culture
"HOW UGLY they are, with their sweet little faces," bellows the football chorus. "What madmen!" Back comes the tune, up goes the volume. And that's just the Faure Pavane. Quite a week for French music on the BBC, what with a Berlioz overture to send the giant puppets along the Champs Elysees and now an answer to the question of the day: why produce a special arrangement for the World Cup theme when Faure had already made his own?

But Faure was a bit subtle. Elizabeth Parker gives it the full Monty, and rousing it is as long as you don't worry about composers turning in graves. Holding on to Robert de Montesquiou's high-camp text was riskier, even in a censored version (it leaves out the lines about "O mortal injury" and "Queens of our hearts"). Sensitive fans should stick to "Vindaloo", which mocks itself instead of the team.

Anyway, these songs show exactly why nobody commissioned a contemporary classical composer to write for the event. The popular touch may be back among some - Friday's Radio 3 broadcast of the Metropolis Symphony by Michael Daugherty proved the point, with a Superman-inspired romp that tickles the ear without insulting the brain. But outside the new-music world nobody knows, because they have not forgiven the aggressively anti- populist music of preceding decades. Radio 3's major French contribution of the week, ironically, was to choose as its daily featured artist Pierre Boulez, who did more than most to turn them away.

What might Boulez have made of Tuesday's BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concert, in which Tan Dun conducted music by himself and other Asian composers?After centuries of Western composers plundering the East, these musicians have raided the remains of the classical tradition and gone off to write their own way.

The result is music that makes the same sounds as orchestras usually do, but follows completely different thought processes. Continuity may depend more on aesthetic and emotional balance than on logical working- out. In practice this makes for some ferociously extended bursts of intensity and concentration, as in PQ Phan's "Flash".

Feelings ran just as high in Tokuhide Nimi's "Chain of Life", though more gently expressed until the final gathering of forces into a Sibelius- like storm. Yuan-Lin Chen's "Away from Xuan" attempted to place folk-songs in a harmonically unsympathetic context, to somewhat messy effect though it moved on to a thrilling final build-up. Only Tan's Concerto for Pizzicato Piano made its orchestra produce more obviously Chinese sounds.

Elsewhere it took the 19th century to match this excitement - an encounter after many years with Liszt's Faust Symphony in Tuesday's hotly paced and instrumentally refined performance by the Ulster Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Montgomery. Since the last time, the works of Wagner and Mahler have flowed regularly by. Coming back was like recognising the seed that contained all of them - the symbolism of the one, the spiritual aspiration of the other, plus a sense of slow, inexorable transformation that is Liszt's own.