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.
A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend
A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michael Brown shooting: Police shoot and kill second young black man near Ferguson
- 2 James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
- 3 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns aged 27
- 4 Cilla Black defends Cliff Richard: 'I am positive that the allegations are without foundation'
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
Calvin Harris named highest-paid DJ in the world ahead of David Guetta and Avicii
JK Rowling releases new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing Celestina Warbuck, the 'Singing Sorceress'
Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermeister and vodka
Kate Bush: Previously unseen photographs reveal new side to comeback star
The funniest joke at Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Tim Vine wins for second time
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head