Bye-bye to the bad boy of Brum: Jan Smaczny on Mark-Anthony Turnage's final collaboration with the CBSO

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The title doesn't really say it all. Mark-Anthony Turnage's Drowned Out might mark the end of his collaboration with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, but there was little sense of their partnership being drowned out, still less worn out. There is, of course, multiple meaning in the title of the new work - premiered last Wednesday in Nottingham and given its first broadcast performance from Symphony Hall on Thursday - at one level referring to William Golding's Pincher Martin, the extended flashback of a drowning man, on another an indication of the aggressive use of a brass-heavy full orchestra.

When taken together, Turnage's Birmingham works present a disarmingly approachable profile. The composer's 'bad boy' image took something of a knock with Momentum, written for the opening of Symphony Hall, and couldn't survive the compelling graciousness of the choral work Leaving. There is a hint of the earlier Turnage in the relentless fortissimos of Drowned Out, an impression reinforced by the performing instruction of 'Very nasty' at the climax, but the approachability survives. The work communicates through clarity of structure and argument, above all through the unmistakable presence of melody - melody of the most sensuous kind welcoming the listener into the piece and returning like balm after a terrifyingly violent climax.

As a whole, Drowned Out seems a more complete statement of the composer's personality than any of his works since the cello concerto Kai. Momentum made perhaps too many compromises with tradition, while, in Leaving, the affinities with the likes of Benjamin Britten, though beneficial, were a little too clear.

Drowned Out is obviously a piece by an English composer, but the national accent is more abstract than in earlier pieces. There was something of Vaughan Williams's Fourth and Sixth Symphony in the furious onslaught of the central section of the work, a hint also of Nicholas Maw, but there was a trenchant individuality, almost truculence, about the way in which Turnage presents his agenda. Drowned Out, like Three Screaming Popes, is a repertoire animal and sets the seal on an impressive double-act.

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