Proms; Majesty of the modernisers

BBC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA BBC SINGERS ALBERT HALL

OLIVER KNUSSEN'S Prom could have served as an easy way into 20th- century music; a pity, then, that there were so few people in the Albert Hall to benefit from the introduction.

Knussen began with Messiaen's L'Ascension, an early (1932-33), four-movement orchestral suite that underlines how swiftly he found his own language, and where it had its roots. The second movement, "Serene Alleluias of a Soul Which Desires Heaven", is full of pastoral, "Stravinsky-meets-Canteloube" ornamentation; and the rich Ravelian textures of the third are buoyant with the rhythms of dance.

George Benjamin first made his mark at the Proms in 1980, aged 20. After the initial fuss, he seemed to disappear from view to get on with composing the music he wanted to produce.

"Sometime Voices", a 1996 work for baritone, chorus and orchestra, setting a short passage from "The Tempest", shows what a strong voice he himself has acquired. Here was a work with an absolutely secure harmonic basis and scoring that was genuinely inventive.

"Sometime Voices" begins over the whirring of three xylophones struck with side-drum sticks - an extraordinary noise - as the chorus call up Caliban (sung here by the indispensable David Wilson-Johnson). The orchestra gradually trips into life, and again the chorus calls Caliban. The music rises to an extended climax, and the baritone sings his last declamatory lines, the voice veiled as if he were slipping back into sleep.

And after sleep, an explicit indulgence: Robin Holloway's "Hymn to the Senses" for unaccompanied chorus, written in 1990. At half-an-hour long, it's a bold gesture which requires confident projection of pitch, and the composer must have been well pleased with the rock-steady intonation of the BBC Singers, under Stephen Cleobury.

Holloway stretches his forces to the practical limit: though his harmonies are basically diatonic-triadic, he allows himself a considerable degree of chromatic freedom; the result is a rather English sensuality.

John Fuller's texts suggest an M-shape, swinging past touch, smell and taste in its first span and sound and sight in the second, and allowing the music a point of rest on a recurrent phrase that invokes all of the senses.

Holloway is careful to vary his textures - Fuller's "Sound" and "Taste", for example, he treats as bright interludes within his larger structures, the trumpets evoked in his music reflecting the heraldic images in Fuller's often witty poems.

After three works of this character, there was no point in imposing some classical sobriety on the audience, and the evening closed with Scriabin's heady "Poem of Ecstasy", the sketches for which, indeed, initially bore the title "Po'me orgiaque".

Knussen's reading was gloriously unabashed, both sensitive to the delicate perfumes of Scriabin's more langorous moments, and exultant in the sweeping power of his surging climaxes.

I don't recall a performance that more directly underlined Scriabin's debt to Debussy's "La Mer", first performed just a year before "The Poem of Ecstasy" was begun.

MARTIN ANDERSON

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
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
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
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.

    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'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'