Harrison Birtwistle’s Earth Dances is one of the big symphonic landmarks of the late twentieth century, so it was appropriate that Daniel Harding and the London Symphony Orchestra should make it the cornerstone of their celebration of his eightieth birthday.
In part inspired by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and containing echoes of that earlier landmark, it’s usually described in geological terms – volcanic eruptions, shifting tectonic plates etc. This performance by Harding and the LSO suggested different parallels, most notably with the seemingly loose – but actually finely calibrated - heterophony of Japanese gagaku, with high flute wailings over dry woodblock percussion, but the rending violence of the brass bore Birtwistle’s unique stamp. Unlike the Rite, this work has no extraneous literary connotations: teeming with ideas, it’s about the orchestra itself, and about the dramatic transformations through which its sound can pass.
The other work in this concert was Brahms’s Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor with Paul Lewis at the keyboard. Lewis may be a superb exponent of Beethoven and Schubert, but on this showing he doesn’t have what it takes for Brahms. In this work the notes should glow with passionate warmth, but Lewis’s touch was cold and calculated throughout; his heart just wasn’t in it.Reuse content