Prom 5, review: Maverick HK Gruber shows no sign of slowing up at 72

Colin Currie/BBC Phil/John Storgards, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

As evidenced by the world premiere of his new percussion concerto, the septuagenarian maverick HK Gruber shows no signs of slowing down, or sobering up. His first percussion concerto had been, as he himself put it, ‘percussive noise-making in all its extrovert forms’; his new one, entitled Into the open…, is ‘a symphonic piece concentrating on percussion with distinct pitches’. And with Colin Currie as soloist, that was abundantly clear from the start.

The first sounds were decidedly Oriental – the sort of brass you’d hear in Peking opera – and as the orchestra joined gently in you sensed how subtly calculated Gruber’s sound-world was.

Everything was done with a light touch in this 25-minute piece, which built via a series of slow burns to some exhilarating climaxes. Currie’s personal orchestra included everything from marimba and vibraphone, tuned bells and gongs, to congas and a cajon box-drum which he slapped with his bare hands.

And while he sprinted to and fro among his instruments, John Storgards and the BBC Philharmonic reflected what he was doing, and offered cues for what he might do next. The work’s conclusion focused with lovely inventiveness on the beauty of decaying sound.

The rest of this outstanding Prom consisted of a poised rendering of Haydn’s ‘La reine’ symphony, and one of the most thrilling accounts of Petrushka I have ever heard.