PROMS / Mike Westbrook Orchestra - Royal Albert Hall / Radio 3

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The Independent Culture
The Big Band theory of the universe states that matter explodes continuously except in the vibraphone solo. There was no shortage of decibels or dazzling fingerwork at Sunday night's Prom. Offered as a bicentenary tribute, Mike Westbrook's Big Band Rossini was a string of Rossini excerpts, all given driving, syncopated rhythms and much surplus chordwork. Rows of saxophones and trumpets stepped forward and flourished with snaky virtuosity; free-ranging solos abounded. The Latin American Barber of Seville overture preserved the reedy freshness of Rossini's own wind-band sound. But the arrangements were seldom so innocent. There were endless self-conscious gear changes, fragmentations, Schoenbergian dissonant squidges: a chaos of sterile innovatory gestures. Moorish and Spanish echoes only made one long to be listening to Gil Evans's Sketches of Spain where this kind of thing was done decades ago, properly. Kate Westbrook's remarkable voice, with its parodic Brechtian vibrance, was used notably in a camp Pierrot-type version of the 'Willow Song' from Otello, with an aleatoric storm of frantic high-pitched staccatos and murderous brass in the middle.

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