MUSIC / Early promise and late fulfilment: Nicholas Williams on the opening concerts of the Brighton Festival

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The Independent Culture
THOUGH the official theme of the 1993 Brighton Festival is 'Echoes and Ecologies', a more appropriate title for this year's two opening concerts might have been 'Youth and Age'. Marking both the 100th anniversary of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the 25th anniversary of the Brighton Festival Chorus, they offered a major commission on Sunday from George Lloyd, 80 this year, and an outstanding performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, on Friday, by the new boy from Germany, David Garrett, aged 12.

Like patent medicines, child prodigies come supplied with ringing endorsements. Garrett's have been provided by veteran virtuoso Ida Haendel, and backed up in practical terms by Brighton Festival director Gavin Henderson, who invited him in to replace an indisposed Kyung-Wha Chung. What could have been a risk proved a panacea. Korean violinists have world followings, but juvenile ones have electricity - and box-office magic. And, in the event, Garrett surpassed expectations, delivering a reading of imagination and flair.

There were absences, inevitably. The tone lacked power and depth, tending to glassiness. But whereas strength will come with natural growth, what cannot be acquired - intonation instinctively grasped - was already present in the sharply etched passage-work of the first movement no less than in the sustained lines of the second. Halfway through this slow movement things went a little astray, despite the attentive accompaniment of conductor Andrew Litton and the Bournemouth players. But in the first movement, more judiciously chosen tempi allowed this young violinist to modulate effortlessly between extremes of dramatic action and lyric contemplation in a manner that pointed to real maturity.

After the interval, rough-edged Mahler followed smooth, polished Mendelssohn: an ambitious reading of the Fifth Symphony in which sharp, grotesque characterisations were allowed to stand as significant contrasts rather than parts of a jigsaw to be fitted together.

Then on Sunday evening, again with the Bournemouth SO, the festival audience continued its journey through the seven ages with the premiere of Lloyd's Symphonic Mass, completed in 1991. Not many composers try this sort of thing nowadays - an ambitious interpretation of the words from a non-liturgical, humanistic viewpoint - let alone at 78. But Lloyd, with his colourful, romantic musical language, seems more qualified than most to try.

An appealing aspect of the piece was precisely the way unfamiliar responses were brought to familiar words: aggressive choral acclamations for the Kyrie, a slinky gavotte for the Agnus Dei. Less convincing, despite a strongly asserted motto theme, was the symphonic content; the music flowed seamlessly from line to line of text yet lacked an urgent sense of connection. The most powerful passage was quintessentially static: distant drums, wailing cor anglais and snatches of shimmering flute arabesque in the Credo suggesting the mysterious terror of the Incarnation.

Concerts directed by the composer always have a special excitement. In addition to his own Mass, Lloyd conducted Elgar's transcription of Bach's C minor Fantasy and Fugue and a lively Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody with pianist John Lill. On present form, Lloyd looks well set to join the ranks of Britain's sprightly compositional octogenarians.

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