QEH and Hellenic Centre, London
You can't help liking that old rebel Dave Heath, nor The Rage for bass flute and strings, first performed by the BT Scottish Ensemble and given its London premiere by Heath's own DC Heath Band on Monday at the QEH. One reason why is that, far from bearing just the marks of his famous anger, it's a score of sonorous beauty that matches fury with elegance. Heath in print or speech seems engaged with every injustice under the sun. The effect can be rebarbative. In music, however, he reveals a gifted creative persona that boasts both craft and fantasy, with a wicked sense of timing.
On Monday evening, this was forcefully evident in The Rage's final part, which matched the title's mood by having the players both stamp and shout. A much-hyped feature of the concert, the gestures themselves were pretty tame by the standards of the 1960s avant-garde. What impressed more was how these and other ideas, heard earlier on, were skilfully paced as matters of musical reflex. In Sarajevo, for example, Albinoni's Adagio, paraphrased in terms of air-raid sirens mimicked on violins, held a fine aesthetic balance between noise, artful sound and Jimi Hendrix cello.
Kyle of Lochalsh put a different gloss on the same kind of skills. Here, some standard terms of Celtic dance - fiddle tunes with boisterous backing - were fitted together with a gift for effect that even our senior composer of Scottish jigs might cherish or envy.
Composing, after all, is not just a matter of quilting patches. Knowing when to move on, to what and how, is the essence of playing the game. If The Rage, with its opening rainforest evocation, did this on the larger scale, Heath's shorter pieces, powerful reflections of his love of jazz, and of John Coltrane's jazz especially, were no less strong in their sense of improvisation captured within a rounded musical form. No mean performer, Heath himself was soloist in the earliest of them, Out of the Cool, for flute and piano. It sounded fun to play. So did Coltrane, which Simon Haram gave with control and impassioned understanding on the soprano saxophone.
The following evening, at the Hellenic Centre, Coltrane could be heard again, this time on clarinet and given by another outstanding young player, Tom Watmough. In his hands, the piece seemed rather less wild; he drew instead on its poetic origins: a vision of Coltrane communing on a misty mountain to the sounds of jazz and ragas.
Clio Gould (of the DC Heath Band) played Bach's E major Partita and led the excellent Eos Ensemble in Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, with Simon Callow narrating. Conducted by Charles Hazlewood, who also stylishly compered the evening, this crisp, polished reading never faded or faltered. Stravinsky's rhythms are usually thought of as a challenge for musicians. It was good to hear them tried and not found wanting by a thoroughly musical actor as well.