Passion and grandeur

Alan Bush | Wigmore Hall, London
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The Independent Culture

The centenary of composer Alan Bush (1900-1995) is being celebrated in style. A packed Wigmore Hall was riveted by Dialectic (1929), played by the Bochmann String Quartet. Technically fallible but emotionally sincere, the Bochmann Quartet's reading grew in stature as the concise and closely-argued one-movement work progressed. Dialectic is Bush's masterpiece, worthy of a place in the repertoire of every international string quartet. Its strength and originality remain undimmed.

The centenary of composer Alan Bush (1900-1995) is being celebrated in style. A packed Wigmore Hall was riveted by Dialectic (1929), played by the Bochmann String Quartet. Technically fallible but emotionally sincere, the Bochmann Quartet's reading grew in stature as the concise and closely-argued one-movement work progressed. Dialectic is Bush's masterpiece, worthy of a place in the repertoire of every international string quartet. Its strength and originality remain undimmed.

The cantata Voices of the Prophets (1953) received a compelling reading from tenor Wills Morgan and pianist Richard Black. Without a score, Wills Morgan communicated directly with the audience, which is essential in this most passionate, and compassionate, of Alan Bush's vocal works. The blend of delicacy and emotional fervour in Bush's beautiful setting of texts from the Bible, Milton, Blake and Peter Blackman was perfectly caught in this poetic and heartfelt reading.

Peter Jacobs gave an authoritative account of the 24 Preludes, an apt choice for inclusion in this concert, as the composer himself gave the work its premiÿre in the Wigmore Hall in 1977. Peter Jacobs presented every Prelude as a mini tone poem, investing each one with its own distinctive character. From the serenity of Preludes 8, 13 and 23 to the scherzo-like energy of numbers 2, 11 and 21, Peter Jacobs took risks with the music, providing a grippingly cogent and powerful performance, rather than just giving the piece a respectful outing. It was the high point of a well-rounded portrait of Alan Bush, given by musicians who understand his music and realise that sincerity and passion are the crucial keynotes to its realisation.

Other substantial works such as The Freight of Harvest, a song cycle for tenor and piano (1969), the Viola Sonatina (1978) and the tender Woman's Life, a song cycle for soprano and piano (1977), which sets poems by the composer's wife Nancy, are all on the programme in another Alan Bush Centenary Concert held at the Royal Academy of Music, where Bush was Professor of Composition for 53 years.

There's an extremely rare opportunity to hear Alan Bush's massive Piano Concerto, with its Busoni-inspired choral finale, at a performance that takes place at the BBC's Maida Vale Studios on Tuesday, December 19th. Broadcast live on Radio 3, its grandeur and passion should make a fitting climax to Alan Bush's Centenary year.

The neglect of Bush's works by the British musical establishment, probably because of his Marxist views, has gone on for far too long. Many of his compositions are well-crafted products of an original mind. It is to be hoped all the Centenary concerts will encourage further exploration of his output: the four symphonies and four major operas merit investigation. Their musical importance should be evident to those of all political persuasions.

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