Classical Music Live Review: Burrell premiere: Symphonies of Flocks, Herds and Shoals RFH, London

Some composers strive for individuality: others just are different. Diana Burrell is firmly in category two. It isn't a question of techniques or mannerisms, but of spirit. In marked contrast to many of today's English composers, there isn't a hint of anal retentiveness about her - nothing to suggest that she composes with a repressed donnish critic peering over her shoulder. She has written an ambitious symphony, full of grand, heroic gestures, and christened it with one of her typically extravagant titles: Symphonies of Flocks, Herds and Shoals. The music is unashamedly illustrative: shrill birdsong on woodwind and xylophone, trumpetings and bellowings from the brass, basses lowing like primal oxen, off-stage violins flashing and diving like shoals of fish. Along with these come other, less definite, but equally fantastical sounds: rattling pebbles, an aboriginal "rainmaker", flexatones and swanee whistle.

I can't pretend that it all made perfect sense in Wednesday's first performance (premieres of truly original works rarely do). The significance of the two short "Episodes" - a kind of open-ended chorale prelude and a vivid evocation of English change ringing - wasn't easy to gauge from one hearing. But all five movement were full of sounds and ideas that demand to be heard again, from the warm, faintly Tippettish chord that sets the work in motion to the brazen chant that rounds off the finale.

Some of the string writing was especially memorable: gritty but also lyrical, the harmonic logic plainly heard and felt rather than drily calculated. Performed with conviction - as it was here by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Michael Schonwandt - Burrell's music is strikingly direct. It stirs the emotions and excites the senses even when the intellect is still trying to find its bearings. She plainly wants the listener to see pictures and search for extra-musical meanings, and on this level, too, it was hard to resist. And if details were sometimes difficult to process, there is still an unmistakable sense of larger movement, with climaxes plainly where they ought to be.

This brave work should be heard again soon: is it too late to find a space for it in the Proms? Symphonies of Flocks, Herds and Shoals made its debut in the company of two heroic Nordic works: Sibelius's Karelia suite and Nielsen's Fourth Symphony, known here as "The Inextinguishable" (perhaps, one day, somebody will come up with a better translation of the Danish). The performance of the Sibelius was competent but somewhat uninvolving, but the Nielsen was alive and compelling from start to finish, with some beautiful solos, not least from the BBC SO's supertimpanist, John Chimes. The outer movements were as rousing and uplifting as they should be, but it was good, too, to hear the delightful little allegretto second movement played with affection - more than a respite before we get back to the real business. Everything in this symphony is real.

Suggested Topics
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'