Music: Classical: A new glory of the garden

Michael Berkeley Premiere

Barbican Hall, London

The English preoccupation with gardens is as intriguing as it is ancient. On the one hand, it can inspire something as comfortingly, palpably down- to-earth as Gardeners' Question Time; on the other, the garden has been a place of magical or mystical possibilities, where saints have visions and cosseted Victorian children discover heady midnight selves.

The image behind Michael Berkeley's new Secret Garden, a joint LSO/OUP commission, is ambiguous: delight and excitement are there, but also something threatening. One may be reminded of Elgar's wonderful description of part of the first movement of his Second Symphony: "Like a malign influence wandering in a garden on a summer's evening". Berkeley's garden is also surrounded by a barrier, vividly depicted by angry, pulsating brass figures. But eventually these yield and we see beyond: a micro-world of tiny, fascinating details, alternating with broader perspectives. At the end, however, everything - including the brass "barrier" figures - is drawn together into an exultant tutti in a Janacekian D flat major; the final gesture, two D flats rapped out quickly on brass and timpani, is also pure Janacek, a homage to one of music's great yea-sayers, and a clear sign that Berkeley's "dangerous" quest has found its goal.

Wednesday's premiere, given by the LSO under Sir Colin Davis, sounded very assured and full of life and colour. On first impression, Secret Garden seems to stop short of probing the darker, thornier regions revealed in the composer's Clarinet Concerto and opera Baa Baa Black Sheep. But the exhilaration is real enough, especially in the closing pages.

After Secret Garden came one of those works that used to be simply Mozart and now stands revealed as not-quite-Mozart. The Sinfonia Concertante K297b, for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and orchestra, is probably an arrangement of a work by Mozart (with a flute and no clarinet) but based only on the solo parts - in other words, the orchestral material is pastiche by person or persons unknown. As far as I'm aware, nobody ever said it was a profoundly original masterpiece. But whoever wrote it, it's still very pleasant - a musical garden with no hidden surprises, but enough to keep the senses happy. The four soloists from the LSO played it lovingly.

Apart from the ever-popular From the New World, Dvorak's symphonies are nothing like the staple concert fare they used to be. In a way that's sad - when was the last time you heard a performance of No 5 or No 6 by a British orchestra that really knew and loved it? But if it means an orchestra like the LSO can approach a splendid work like No 7 with the freshness and resolve they showed here (not a hint of fatal familiarity), then maybe it's not an entirely bad situation.

The Seventh shows Dvorak utterly at home in symphonic form, able to acknowledge both the rival giants Brahms and Wagner without compromising his own individuality. It is urgent, impassioned, moody sometimes, typically charming - and consistently on a high level from ominous opening to exultant close. It is still very unusual to hear it performed with such conviction and warmth. Davis opted for the traditionally "improved" ending: horns soaring upwards to underline the theme. Not the scholarly solution, of course, but what the hell - it was glorious.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    English Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day + ?110 - 130: Randstad Education Reading: English Teacher ...

    KS2 Teacher with SEN responsibilities

    £115 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: KS2 teacher with SEN responsibi...

    Administrative Assistant

    £60 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Administrative Assitant Hertford...

    Web Application Support Manager

    £60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments