MUSIC / False dawn: Anthony Payne reviews the LSO at the Barbican Hall

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The Independent Culture
THE MORE advanced Russian contemporary music that filtered through to the West even before glasnost placed European styles in fascinating perspective.

In an uninhibited way Russian composers took aspects of Western avant-garde music, if sometimes only the surface gestures, and grafted them on to native roots that had developed from composers as opposed to that kind of modernist thinking as, say, Shostakovich. The results often possessed flair. The Russians at least gave the impression of keeping their feet on the ground while wishing to communicate on all fronts.

As much could certainly be said of Vyacheslav Artyomov whose rather grandiose symphony The Morning Star Arises was given its world premiere at the Barbican Centre, London, on Sunday by Rostropovich and the London Symphony Orchestra. Artyomov belongs to that generation of Russian composers that is familiar through the work of Gubaidulina, Denisov and Schnittke, but is himself largely unknown here. Something of the flavour of his music is suggested by his avowed interest in Prokofiev, Messiaen, Varese and the Polish avant-garde, as well as 19th-century composers like Chopin and Wagner. He is a romantic modernist, concerned with religious themes.

The new symphony, for instance, fourth of a tetralogy that has occupied Artyomov for 15 years, is based on a quotation from the New Testament and, in the composer's own words, describes 'the moments before we meet our maker'. The trouble is that the symphony's apocalyptic gestures, which relate to Scriabin and Messiaen, are scattered around without that sense of logic or sequencing that animates the models.

The symphony's chain of events sounds improvisatory, and much of the material lacks individuality. Only a motor- rhythmic development in the middle of the second movement made a greater claim on the listener, along with some of the celestial textures of the final pages. Under the circumstances, the work's processes sounded a little casual, even sometimes haphazard, while colours, especially those of the percussion department, were not always applied with discrimination. Despite these reservations, however, the idea of commissioning the work for Rostropovich and the LSO by a Russian business firm was an excellent one. One wishes an English firm might do as much for a native composer.

Earlier we heard music by Beethoven, and after a slightly stilted performance of the overture Coriolanus, in which Rostropovich constantly reined back music that needed to explode with greatest force, there was a much freer account of the Third Piano Concerto. Indeed Radu Lupu released the storm of Beethoven's inspiration with splendid trenchancy. Here was the ideal combination of intellectual control and fullness of emotion, and when the final Presto leapt from the slips like a greyhound, it was exhilarating.

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