Music; Philharmonia, RFH, London YMSO, Barbican, London
Thursday 26 October 1995
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?
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food