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.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 3 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 Snoop Dogg on why he doesn't regret displaying misogyny towards women
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, The Gift, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show’s most iconic characters just met
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland