Barbican Hall, London
London Sinfonietta / Thomas Ades
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Two British composers from different generations conducted not only the London premiere of a new piano concerto of their own last week, but a whole programme of their choice built around it. Even if the sorts of conflict and reconciliation found in many 19th-century concertos aren't of interest to today's composers, the drama of opposition, alternation and combination is there to be explored in different ways.
One problem with Peter Maxwell Davies's Piano Concerto, heard last Tuesday, is that it's not particularly dramatic. This three-movement, 36-minute work has its moments: a big climax in the 18-minute, often moderately- paced first movement, for instance, followed by a hint, involving a couple of suspended cymbals, of the Mad Max of the Sixties. And the structure is less obviously sectional than that of many of Davies's recent compositions. But the relationship of soloist and orchestra is unenthralling. This isn't helped by an oddly unengaging piano part, much of which seems like merely note-spinning bravura; even the slow second movement's more lyrical moments possess little magic. Harmonically, too, this concerto appears curiously arbitrary, despite the employment of key signatures, mainly in the second movement. Kathryn Stott did her admirable best. And at least Davies's accounts of Beethoven - the Egmont Overture and Pastoral Symphony - had more vitality than his conducting sometimes yields. Attendance was poor.
Eager anticipation for the 26-year-old Thomas Ades on Saturday was understandable. Old hands may feel that they've been here before in terms of the hype: been there, done that, bought the (Faber Music) T-shirt. But not in musical terms, which is what matters. Ades's Concerto Conciso (already reviewed from Birmingham), in which its composer was soloist as well as conductor, is less than a quarter of the length of Davies's concerto, but it packs in a lot more imagination and excitement. Like all his pieces, it teems almost dangerously with ideas, which include much more than just engaging rhythmic energy and timbral ingenuity: an unusual, quirkily symbiotic relationship between solo and ensemble is but one of them. Wrapped around this concerto were three rarely-heard compositions in what seemed excellent performances: George Enescu's 1954 Symphonie de Chambre (Schoenbergian timbres and earnestness with an individual flavour); the British premiere of Niccol Castiglioni's Cantus Planus II (a cycle, from 1990-91, of exquisitely lyrical if somewhat post-Webernian miniatures for two female singers - Nicole Tibbels and Teresa Shaw - that suggested we should really hear more of this composer, who died last year); and Jean Barraque's difficult but white hot and stunningly dramatic Concerto for clarinet (Timothy Lines), vibraphone (David Hockings) and 18-piece ensemble, from 1968.Reuse content