proms round-up

Kurtg and Dillon

Music Projects / London

Mozart and Schubert

COE / Harnoncourt

Electronic instruments may come and go, but the voice remains the source of human music, and with it the garnish of meaning from the word. That's something we take for granted, but last Friday's late-night Prom, with Music Projects / London and the vocal group Polyphony, drew on four centuries of history to make it the subject of this year's most challenging concert.

Two major new works of opposing tendencies, both conducted by Richard Bernas, formed the axis for this adventure: Gyorgy Kurtg's Samuel Beckett: What is the Word? and James Dillon's Oceanos. The former picked over the dry bones of words and syllables, the latter (a BBC commission and world premiere) engulfed its words in a flood of orchestral timbre.

The watery image seems right for a work that forms the close of Dillon's "Nine Rivers" project, 14 years in the making, and three hours in total. In Oceanos, the river of rivers, all things mixed: languages, sounds, ideas from earlier in the cycle. Strenuous episodes for 16 singers are ranged round four ensemble interludes, brimming with hyperactive music that dares the ear to make shapes and phrases from its turbulence, yet which moves with steady tread to a climax of thunderous drumbeats. At times inaudible, the Latin text, about the wise man perceiving the ways of heaven in the flux of nature, has the role of a slogan. It floats like a banner above the music. Dillon's manners are modernist with a vengeance, yet boast a confidence that is almost Wagnerian.

By contrast, Kurtg's setting of Beckett's last text took a scalpel to language, the composer, as ever, packing multiple meanings into the sparsest of musical ideas. The remarkable story of actress Ildik Monyk's seven- year battle to regain the power of speech was the inspiration; and she was there on Friday, a tiny figure on the Albert Hall stage, yet filling it with a dramatic force that was half tragic, half vaudeville. As she threaded her way through the Hungarian words with the aid of an upright piano, a quintet of singers rendered them into English while responses from instrumental groups in the balcony paced her hesitant progress through sound, syntax and sentence. So very far apart, the arts of are perhaps beyond reconciliation. Yet, in their very existence, we might read a sign of health in new music that too often is perceived as moribund.

NICHOLAS WILLIAMS

Lest anyone thought encores were spontaneous, a harp and percussion were prominently placed each side of the stage at Sunday's Prom, left idle during the main part of the programme - Mozart's Prague Symphony and Schubert's Great C major. When the stamping started after the Schubert, the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt stilled the audience and said that, in case there were another power cut this year, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe had brought its own electricity. A safe joke, at that stage, given the audience response, but there wasn't much of a charge in the Mozart, for Harnoncourt's batonless beat excited the surface of the music with little sense of tension beneath it.

By now it's not uncommon to begin Schubert's colossal C major Symphony at a fair walking pace, which minimises, or even eliminates, the change of gear when the main Allegro arrives. Harnoncourt began a little more slowly than some and, as in the Mozart, rose to the bait of each opportunity for temperamental display, so that the severity of Schubert's architecture was modified by subjective squinting. There was a lot of easing at the ends of paragraphs in the second movement, even a suspicion of vacillation, but the Scherzo started with a deep spring and some energetically pointed woodwind playing, although the slight delay underlining the final note of each phrase inevitably came to seem mannered. A pity, at the end of this long movement, that Harnoncourt allowed tuning to break the tension. Still, the finale, taken really briskly, was the best thing, with a surprising but effective diminuendo on the last chord. If the audience might have preferred a bang, they got a few in Johann Strauss II's fidgety overture to The Gipsy Baron.

ADRIAN JACK

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition