Music; Philharmonia, RFH, London YMSO, Barbican, London

When Samuel Barber presented his new Second Symphony to the American Air Force, who had commissioned it, there was some consternation. The USAF, Barber was told, was a progressive force, so where were the new instruments, the new techniques? In France today, I am told, big business takes a similar view: a forward-looking firm wants forward-looking music - and isn't the modern French constitution founded on the idea of revolution?

We do things differently here. When UK companies commission new works of art, they seem on the whole to want heritage, nostalgia and, of course, accessibility - something about as culturally relevant as John Major's famous vision of Britain ("village cricket, warm beer, old maids bicycling to evensong").

If that was what British Telecom wanted, they made a shrewd choice in commissioning Richard Rodney Bennett - a chameleon composer, equally at home in the cinema, the night-club and the concert hall. Bennett's Partita, given its premiere by the Philharmonia and Christoph von Dohnanyi last Thursday, was tuneful, sentimental and firmly tonal. At its best, it recalled the lighter Walton or Malcolm Arnold, but without the irony. If there was a deeper affinity, it was with the film-scores of John Williams. It was the kind of piece that could have been written to reassure the heads of a wealthy privatised utility that in gaining the whole world they haven't lost their immortal souls.

As far as it went, it was well done. The mistake was in playing it next to Mahler's Fifth. Though over 90 years old, the latter actually felt more "modern" than Partita. Mahler knows all about nostalgia, about "how potent cheap music is" (as Noel Coward said). He loves the urban and rural pop music that fills his symphonies, but at the same time he knows it won't do. The Fifth thrashes out hugely complicated emotional problems with a brilliance, directness and sheer verve that put Bennett's wistful cleverness firmly in the shade. To make matters worse, it was an outstanding performance - a little slick and clean perhaps, but powerfully thought through, making one wonder how the work could ever have been considered disunified. Everything - the Funeral March, the bitter-sweet Adagietto, the crazy Scherzo and the ambiguous hymn-like apotheosis - belonged to a single, complex vision. The capacity audience roared its approval.

Another Mahler Five, given by the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra under James Blair at the Barbican on Tuesday, couldn't compete with Dohnanyi and the Philharmonia when it came to refinement and intellectual wholeness. But the young players brought something different: raw energy - a touch unfocused in places but very exciting. As an extra, Susan McCulloch sang Strauss's Four Last Songs with ever-deepening understanding and beauty of tone. Why don't we hear more of her?

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory