The rebel who lost his cause; MUSIC

Philharmonia Festival Hall, London;

Philharmonia

Festival Hall, London

The 's 50th anniversary party is underway. This week's concerts were unapologetically insular - "made in Britain", every last note - apart from Leonard Slatkin, that is, who flew in from the new world to the old country to host them. Who better? Sometimes it takes an outsider fully to appreciate the vitality of our own musical heritage. Slatkin has long since earned the title of "honorary Brit".

The oldest of the music was marginally older than the orchestra, the newest barely dry on the page. And for once Sir William Walton was honoured guest and not gate-crasher. It's not often that both his symphonies get programmed. Indeed, the scarcity of the Second is such that it might almost have never existed. In the 20 years that separate them, Walton had graduated from angry young man - the renegade force in British musical life - to benign reclusive. To hear both symphonies in relatively close proximity is to understand what happened. Italy happened. And he grew up. He never lost his sharp tongue - the juxtaposition of the cynical and the sensuous is one of his music's most striking characteristics - but, to some extent, the rebel lost his cause.

The Second Symphony was probably quite an exotic species back in 1960. The hothouse variety, textures shot through with the shimmer of vibraphone, celests, harps. It's real Mediterranean twilight, haunted end of day stuff, its phantasmic, vaguely sinister character radiating outwards from the central Lento assai. Not for nothing did sognando ("dreamy") become Walton's favourite expressive term. The sinewy cantabile which winds its way through this intriguing slow movement is the very heart of the matter. But for the rest, the gestures lack motivation. Even Slatkin could not persuade me that the treacherous fugato of the finale (and even the could not disguise some momentary desperation here) was anything other than a composerly "last resort". The high-gothic 12-note theme at the start of the finale (replete with baroque trills) is a striking basis for something, but not that. What an anti-climax.

No such thing as anti-climax in the First Symphony. Now the fugato in that belated finale arrives with roaring inevitability out of all that has gone before. And the audacity of all that has gone before can still brow-beat an audience into submission. This is Walton's coming-out, the scars of youthful endeavour proudly flaunted in every over-zealous tutti. Slatkin and the orchestra delivered a cracker of a performance, lethal in its rhythmic acerbity (timpanist Andrew Smith taking no prisoners) and the primitivism of its colours, like that terrifying exchange of gravelly lowstopped horns and tuba leading on the grim processional to the first movement coda.

So what of today's angry young men? Well, both James MacMillan - represented here by Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, his highly theatrical percussion-led journey from Advent to Easter - and Michael Berkeley are well beyond that stage, though Berkeley has been displaying worrying signs of musical hypertension just lately.

His Viola Concerto, here receiving its London premiere, struck me as a curious mismatch of genre and instrument. From an opening statement of genuine curiosity and promise, played out against the expectant chiming of bells, this most expressive, but vulnerable, of instruments is plunged into an orchestral maelstrom of such high density and anxiety that it fails to reach the ears with any real degree of coherence - musical or otherwise.

All of which leaves the soloist (the highly accomplished Roger Benedict), not so much waving but drowning, forced repeatedly into his highest and least grateful register - more an act of survival than expression. Ironically, the viola variation in Britten's Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell later served to remind me of a beauty and consonance that I know is in Berkeley's gift.

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital