The 72-year-old American composer George Crumb's magical mystery tours through ritualised landscapes used to be very popular. His Star-Child, performed last Friday by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and a range of other forces under Kazushi Ono, is a setting of Latin texts, liturgical and biblical, on a darkness-to-light theme, in which "children of light" play a significant role. It's unique in his output for the size and variety of the forces used.
Even at 1979 Proms, when it was almost new, this meandering, 35-minute work – for solo soprano, solo trombone, children's and male-voice choirs, handbell ringers, and an orchestra so large and subdivided it requires three sub-conductors, plus violins and apocalyptic trumpets – already seemed vastly overblown.
On Friday, the hall's lack of appropriate atmosphere added a fresh layer of problems, making Star-Child seem even more clunking. Valdine Anderson, the soprano soloist, bravely went for broke. But the result – for all the efforts expended on it in what appeared to be a keenly drilled account under Ono – seemed more like a cartoon rendering of a naively optimistic message than anything serious.
Last Wednesday, the flautist Camilla Hoitenga and the strings and percussion of the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski offered the British premiere of Kaija Saariaho's Aile du Songe. Composed last year, this work transmutes the image of birdsong – its title, taken from Saint-John Perse, means "wing of dream" – into music that works its ethereal magic by steely control.
Saariaho's timbral explorations recall the composer's earlier output. The solo line, on the other hand – which is almost continuous throughout the two movements – occasionally suggests her more recent preoccupation with a more melodic approach, though it incorporates a plethora of instrumental techniques. I preferred the generally fast second movement, with its vivid little cadenza and beautiful, evocative ending, to the rather static, repetitive first movement. Hoitenga, for whom the work was composed, was a vivacious and alluring soloist.
A good house on Wednesday also enjoyed Jurowski's cheeky, postmodern account of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé Suite and a less eccentric, though no less well-played, performance of Stravinsky's Firebird. These provided more stimulating listening than did Ono's only fitfully engaging account, on Friday, of Holst's The Planets.Reuse content