MUSIC / End games: Nicholas Williams on the premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Beckett-based saxophone concerto
Friday 25 February 1994
Even so, literary enthusiasts might have searched in vain for the musical equivalent of the pregnant syllable and the meaningful silence. Your Rockaby was Turnage in full flood: a 25-minute orchestral sonata reflecting the experience of a batch of recent works and his powers of sustained argument. To an already augmented ensemble were added cimbalom and exotic percussion for the kind of hard-edged, shining tutti that Turnage has made his own.
Against this deluge the soloist came out fighting, uplifted and working ceaselessly in mad jazz patterns to stem the orchestral tide. Reticence, for Beckett, was the calculus of pain. For Turnage, here at least, every phrase appeared to mark a higher level of almost physical confrontation.
Except, that is, in the final lullaby, where upheaval gave way to blues melancholy and emptiness. Its bitter-sweet melody, tailored to display the best of Robertson's soaring cantilena, was a 'setting' of the opening of Beckett's text, in which an old woman quietly rocks herself to sleep - and death. How else, perhaps, to conclude such an essay in friction, where earlier on the soloist had ridden the orchestral storm of manic high drama shared with darkly brooding episodes?
Robertson's variety of attack and rich vibrato marked a player of distinction, surviving textures that seemed almost too sustained, overwrought if never overwritten. In the lullaby the conflict of opposites was reconciled in suspended tension. The literary source turned violence on its head, yet the sense remained of much that was left unspoken.
After the interval Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony, also in the safe hands of conductor Andrew Davis, explored a world of more positive assertions. Whereas the moments of Edwardian splendour in this piece build themselves, it is the work's original spiritual impulse that the performers must seek to renew on each acquaintance.
The acid test is the finale, a panoramic choral-orchestral fantasia on Walt Whitman's Passage to India, with an ecstatic duet for soprano and baritone soloists at its heart. For Amanda Roocroft and Thomas Hampson, two voices uniquely matched in timbre and resonance, this was an inspiring moment that surely reached out to listeners to Radio 3's live broadcast as well. Hampson, supported by a strong alto line from the BBC Symphony Chorus, had given depth and vision to the earlier slow movement, where the poet's vision of a 'vast similitude' was not always matched by similitudes of tempo.
But both players and singers found common cause in the rapt vision of eternity concluding the symphony. In 1910 Vaughan Williams could attain such Mahlerian serenity without compromise. For interest, compare it with the Sixth Symphony's epilogue, written two wars and three decades later. The mood is stoical, resigned; closer to Beckett in fact.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Barbarians vs Samoa interrupted by sprinklers as fans criticise lack of Wi-Fi and poor seating at West Ham's Olympic Stadium
- 2 Watch the Supermoon live: How to see the brightest Moon of the year tonight
- 3 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
- 4 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
- 5 David De Gea to Real Madrid: Real finally get their man with £29m bid for Manchester United goalkeeper
Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe Ned Stark's son may have a twin sister
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: Monty Python-inspired Australian Sam Simmons wins comedy award with 'very silly' show
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge?'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director promises most exciting premiere yet 'starts off with a bang'
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Online toy marathon to launch new film
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says jobless migrants should be banned from entering the UK