Classical review: Prom 8 Watkins, Stotijn, Keenlyside, Ades, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Thursday 18 July 2013
You have to hand it to Tom Ades – he knows how to subvert our expectations. His new work 'Totentanz' begins like Schoenberg at his most atonally rebarbative, and over the first twenty minutes he ratchets up the aural discomfort until the orchestra becomes convulsed in an explosion so discordant and deafening that one wishes one were somewhere else.
But then, in a series of increasingly pretty after-echoes, the collateral damage is cleared away, and we find ourselves in a cleansed and beguiling sound-world which might have been created by Mahler in one of his serenely visionary moods.
This provocative work’s musical programme has a suitably convoluted back-story. The Totentanz – dance of death – in question was a 30-metre hanging of painted cloth made in 1463 for a church in the German Baltic city of Lubeck. It was replaced by a copy in the 18th century which was subsequently destroyed in the Second World War, but a reproduction existed which became the composer’s inspiration. Words and pictures present a dialogue between Death and a succession of local grandees, each of whom has his or her reason for ignoring the fateful summons: this is a portrait of a society and its vanities. But gradually Death turns his attention to the poor and oppressed, and that becomes the cue for the work’s musically consoling volte face.
It makes huge demands on the baritone and mezzo-soprano who must carry the drama and hold their own against the percussion-heavy orchestra, but in Simon Keenlyside and Christianne Stotijn Tom Ades had struck gold: both made utterly convincing sense of their daunting melodic lines, often in grotesque duet: Keenlyside’s suggesting giant inexorability, and Stotijn’s a nightmarish torment. On the podium, Ades was able to bring out both the savagery and the beauty of his score, but I suggest that he doesn’t stop there: with a suitably Expressionist staging, this could make a very effective one-act opera.
With the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Ades’s incisive baton throughout, this impressive Prom began with Britten’s 'Sinfonia da Requiem', a youthful work which gracefully married private mourning (for his parents’ deaths) and public mourning (for the victims of war). This was followed by Lutoslawski’s Cello Concerto – 'Totentanz' had been dedicated to the memory of that great Polish composer and his wife – in which Paul Watkins gave a heroic rendition of the part which had originally been written for Mstislav Rostropovich.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 2 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Warriors in ancient Iraq suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder more than 3,000 years ago, say researchers
- 5 This crazy skiing video will leave you feeling queasy
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'we're starting to see his demise'
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
Downton Abbey season 5 episode 6 - review: Thomas and Lady Edith show sad signs of the times
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party