PROMS / Notices : BBC SO / Knussen - Royal Albert Hall / R3

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The Independent Culture
Acompletely non-tonal orchestral concert was unlikely to be a sell-out, of course, but while there have been larger audiences for new music Proms, there can't have been many more attentive. The reasons were clear: excellent playing by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the authoritative direction of Oliver Knussen, and a fascinating programme. Two recent works - Elliott Carter at his most direct and technically transparent in Three Occasions for Orchestra and Colin Matthews's energetically single-minded Broken Symmetry - were framed by two roughly contemporary works from early this century: Schoenberg's weirdly beautiful exploration of the twilight zones of artistic creation, Die gluckliche Hand, and a work which sounded more than ever like its absolute antithesis, Stravinsky's ruthlessly depersonalised Four Studies.

Matthews's work stood up very well in this remarkable company, despite a recurring feeling that (from the right of the stalls at least) important details were getting lost in some other part of the Albert Hall. Broken Symmetry is a rare example of a contemporary work in which the influence of Stravinsky is more than skin-deep. Instead of the pleasant but largely cosmetic syncopations and irregularities of Michael Torke and the post-minimal John Adams, there is a rich, multi-layered rhythmic / harmonic argument, compelling right through to its obsessional final climax. Broken Symmetry should be recorded, soon - and preferably with these performers.

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