MUSIC / Bax to the future: Anthony Payne on rare Bliss and Bax, at the South Bank and in Guildford

Those fascinated by the neglected by-paths of mid- 20th-century music were given two rare opportunities to refresh their memories last week: performances of big concertos by Bax and Bliss which, as on other occasions, led one to question our concert halls' indifference to the country's musical heritage.

First, in a Festival Hall concert celebrating the memory of Sir Charles Groves - that determined champion of English music - the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra programmed Bliss's Cello Concerto, written for Rostropovich to play at the 1970 Aldeburgh Festival with Britten conducting.

By then, already in his late seventies, Bliss seemed to many to be a spent force, overtaken by changing fashions. But after his early iconoclastic pieces, he had always been something of a conservative. With the passing of time, such considerations become increasingly unimportant. Much more striking than the Cello Concerto's anachronistic style is its structural cogency, lively invention and individual sound world; and unimpeded by questions of fashion, these qualities are at last able to speak clearly.

With Robert Cohen as a sensitive soloist, we heard a performance alive to the subtle emotional resonances Bliss commanded in old age. Maturity seems to have rid his music of its earlier turbulence, but there is still a remarkable youthful-sounding vitality. The bold first movement offsets its broad improvisatory freshness with a cogent dialectic, while the Larghetto progresses from touching simplicity to a deeper, more complex lyricism. It is a work that ill deserves its present neglect.

Barry Wordsworth and the orchestra responded eagerly to its luminous, classically proportioned textures, and later gave a fine performance of Elgar's Enigma Variations, especially poetic in moments of chamber-music-like intimacy. There was also a rapt interpretation of Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending, with Jonathan Carney a sweetly warbling violin soloist.

Three days later and 30 miles down the road in the Civic Hall, Guildford, Vernon Handley, another indefatigable interpreter of English music, was resurrecting a fascinating work which, though successfully recorded, is practically never heard in the concert hall. Bax's Winter Legends for piano and orchestra was described by the composer as a sinfonia concertante, too discursive to be numbered among the symphonies, but avoiding the solo-tutti relationship of the traditional concerto.

Ironically, however, the work does share many characteristics with the symphonies, where Bax was certainly not averse to discursive processes: it's in the customary three movements with epilogue, and its Nordic feeling and colouring strongly resemble parts of the Third and Fifth symphonies. The music's strength lies in the way Bax manages to sustain thought and concentration despite the episodic manner, and the first movement is a specially successful example of him thinking on the move, controlling a restless improvisatory sequence of events by means of a discernible narrative line.

As always with Bax, the harmonic textures possess uncanny presence - the tuba solo, high, spare string chords and keyboard arpeggios that open the third movement unforgettably. If there are moments where the material outstays its welcome, there is too much of visionary poetry for the work to be allowed to languish. That much was confirmed by Handley and the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra's fine treatment of what is a mightily complex score, and by Margaret Fingerhut's superb concertante piano. Further impressive virtuosity had been in evidence earlier, when Christian Lindberg gave the premiere of Derek Bourgeois's Trombone Concerto in its orchestral version, a work well-calculated to entertain and display.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Arts and Entertainment
Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the Mersey
booksAn early draft of ‘Atrocities’ shows the anti-war sentiment was toned down before publication
Arts and Entertainment
Actors and technicians on the march against changes made by Hollande
theatreOpening performances of the Avignon theatre festival cancelled as actors and technicians walk out
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West performed in a chain mail mask at Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park
Rapper booed at Wireless over bizarre rant
Arts and Entertainment

They're back, they're big – and they're still spectacularly boring

film
Arts and Entertainment
OutKast's Andre 3000 as Jimi Hendrix

film
Arts and Entertainment
Columnist and writer Caitlin Moran

Review: How to Build a Girl

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil