MUSIC / Heart of the 'Sun': David Fanning on concerts in Manchester and Liverpool

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
LAST Wednesday The BBC Philharmonic presented three sharply contrasting recent British works at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

John Veale's Demos Variations are actually longer and more ambitious than an overture, but might arguably be more effective if they were not; they rarely suggest the distinctiveness of sensibility that might keep their friendly, urbane manner fresh. Close to the opposite stylistic pole, David Gow's Cello Concerto seems to make less capital than it might of the tension between constructivist technique and more traditional rhetoric. It received a commanding account of the solo part from Timothy Hugh and typically authoritative playing from the orchestra under Adrian Leaper.

Both of these pieces certainly earned their airing. But it was Malcolm Lipkin's Third Symphony, entitled Sun, that was the real discovery. In its economy and energy, its sense of purpose and of power in reserve, this continuous 25-minute movement is a far more uplifting experience than many a more superficially complex score. My only worry was that some of the ideas are too full of potential to be dropped as quickly as they apparently are. But that is a first reaction, and if ever a piece deserved a follow-up performance, this is it.

That is exactly what Judith Weir's Music, Untangled received from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Libor Pesek at the Philharmonic Hall on Friday. A 1991 Boston Symphony Orchestra commission, Weir's work is a characteristically engaging and energetic score, inspired by an extract from a traditional Scottish melody. To follow its six undemanding minutes with a full 20-minute interval was, admittedly, somewhat bizarre; and it seemed to me that a more sharply pointed, more dynamically varied performance might have helped it to make a stronger impression. But that may be a reflection on the acoustic of the Philharmonic Hall, which is stronger on integration than clarity.

In the first two movements of Pesek's interpretation of Mahler's Sixth Symphony the same thought occurred from time to time. But then the inner horizons of the slow movement were unfolded with a mastery of pacing and orchestral balance that silenced criticism; and, after a shaky moment in the introduction, the finale was held together with the kind of will power on which its awesome force has to be founded.

In retrospect the element of understatement earlier on may have been no bad thing. This is a symphony that can be almost too literally terrifying; keep a slight distance from it, and handle it with as much musicianly care as Pesek encouraged, and you reveal a drama between ideals and realities that can be every bit as stirring as a more individualistic approach.