Review / The new wave: Annette Morreau on Simon Rattle and the CBSO at the Proms

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The Independent Culture
If any proof were needed of the continuing value of the symphony orchestra to contemporary music, it must be Mark-Anthony Turnage's four-year 'residence' with the CBSO and Sir Simon Rattle. Its culmination, a monumental farewell gift to an orchestra and a conductor who have allowed him to mature into one of today's most gifted composers, Drowned Out, which had its London premiere at the Proms on Thursday, is a work of astonishing facility, brimming over with confidence and vitality. Lasting about 23 minutes, and scored for large orchestra - Mahlerian in proportion but with de rigueur saxophones - it was inspired by William Golding's novel Pincher Martin. Turnage, in a pre-Prom talk, spoke of his need for titles as a stimulus, but added that he doesn't want the work to be taken as a literal description of drowning (as offered in Golding's novel) even if it does convey a palpable sense of terror and of life passing away. The opening sombre tolling of bells against a mournful, funereal theme in the cellos and basses evokes memories of Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, a work Turnage much admires, although he shrinks from being considered an 'English' composer. The central section is a breath-taking, glittering dance, showing how convincingly Turnage has found an identity of his own that captures the vitality of jazz and street music without any hint of 'fashion'. After a screaming climax, the final section returns to the mood of the opening, quietly ending with a long, desolate clarinet solo.

In a Prom elegantly constructed to point the links in sound-colour and approach of composers across the century, Turnage's Drowned Out was tellingly programmed alongside Sibelius's late masterpiece Tapiola, Messiaen's early love poem to his wife, Poemes pour Mi (with Maria Ewing the smokily seductive soloist, both voluptuous and nave), and Debussy's La Mer. There was almost a palpable smell of pine needles and salt. And as an encore Rattle offered a taste of the one composer otherwise missing from the group, Igor Stravinsky, the Pas de Deux from whose ballet Apollo provided a magical ending to an evening that convincingly made the case for preserving the symphony orchestra . . . at all costs.