Proms; Majesty of the modernisers
BBC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA BBC SINGERS ALBERT HALL
Saturday 22 August 1998
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.
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
- 2 John Smid: Former leader of US ‘gay cure’ group has just married a man
- 3 These grandmas smoking weed for the first time are wonderful
- 4 Pastafarian former porn star Asia Lemmon allowed to wear colander in driving licence photo
- 5 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Willow and Jaden Smith talk duality of apples, holographic realities and the melancholia of the ocean in incredible New York Times interview
The earliest known Arabic short stories in the world have just been translated into English for the first time
Winnie the Pooh banned from Polish playground for being 'inappropriate hermaphrodite'
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
'Muslims pre-date Columbus in discovering America,' says Turkish president Erdogan
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Former Tory PM Sir John Major says 'we would not have an NHS without migrants'
G20 summit: David Cameron warns Vladimir Putin that Russia's relationship with the West is at a 'fork in the road' over Ukraine
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet