CONCERT / Such distant memories: David Fanning reviews the BBC Philharmonic and Matthias Bamert at the Royal Northern College

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The Independent Culture
Born in 1932, products of the Schoenbergian tradition, and now long-standing colleagues at Cambridge, Alexander Goehr and Hugh Wood make natural concert-programme companions. And works such as the former's Deux Etudes and the latter's Violin Concerto are certainly of a quality to justify their scheduling in Thursday's concert by the BBC Philharmonic.

Yet how historic they now seem, how distant in their earnest complexities from the values of today's musical scene, which may of course may be precisely their strength, if you take the view that most recent contemporary music has sold its soul to commercialism. And I wouldn't for a moment deny that there is beauty and deep feeling in them. Still, I do wonder if such works aren't destined to be more respected than loved.

In 1981 Goehr's Two Studies seemed well on the way to a new Romanticism - near-Tristanesque slidings at one moment, an off-colour Weill-ish brass and percussion passage the next. Such ideas, and the magical descents of the opening, remain fresh. Yet how obvious now is the general tone of self-denial, of shying away from direct statement. Again, this elliptical cast of mind can be fascinating. But the cost in terms of general unmemorability, at least to my ears, is high; fascination and memorability are far more intense in Goehr's preceding orchestral work, Metamorphosis / Dance.

Wood's Violin Concerto is a decade older and apparently even more concerned to avoid and undermine the expressive urges it seems to harbour. Again a high- register opening catches the ear and the music starts to gather itself impressively; it is a while before the realisation dawns that it will never declare itself openly. Tasmin Little nevertheless found plenty to relish in the solo part, which she delivered with finesse and authority, and her partnership with Mathias Bamert and the orchestra was a rewarding one.

But to my mind the long cadenza at the beginning of the third and final movement - all 19th- century concerto gestures gone sour - is a millstone around the structure, for all that Wood manages to compose his way most poetically towards the subsequent homecoming. I would have welcomed the composer's thoughts on the work today, particularly on its character and motivation, rather than a reprint of his dry, unforthcoming programme-note, now 14 years old.

It should have been possible to give the orchestra a better reward for their sterling first-half efforts than Schubert's 'Great' C major Symphony. In the right acoustic and with the right conductor it can of course be supremely uplifting. But the RNCM Concert Hall is a very immediate acoustic and a full orchestral sound easily saturates. Bamert took this into account to a degree and sensibly opted to enable rather than to interfere. Nor was he inattentive to detail. Yet his interpretation was short on affection, vision and insight - the slow movement sounded too real, the scherzo rather half-hearted in its lilt, the outer movements just ordinary. In such circumstances some orchestras would throw in the towel. The BBC Philharmonic is too professional, or rather too musical a band, to do that; but this performance still fell short of what they can accomplish.

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