Sound and fury dignifying nothing : THE CRITICS : Classical music

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Indy Lifestyle Online
ANNIVERSARIES are activator buttons on the time-switch of the music year. The clock ticks round, and the machinery bursts into life, not always very usefully or with commendable results. Last week saw two contrasting anniversaries on successive ev eningsat the South Bank: one regrettable and noisy, one deserved and quiet.

The first (and I'm afraid the noisy one) was the 10th anniversary of YCAT, the Young Concert Artists' Trust which is an entirely laudable organisation set up to support selected performers though the first years of their career when they have talent but no takers. The idea is to provide practical management and promotional services, including showcase concerts, until such time as a commercial manager says, "Yes, I'll have you". And the past 10 years have undoubtedly generated some significant successes.The pianist Joanna MacGregor, the soprano Susan Gritton, the tenor Ian Bostridge are all YCAT alumni, and they were there at the QEH to pay their dues: Gritton with some strong, persuasive Messiaen, Bostridge with some Poulenc songs, not powerfully projected but striking for their sensitive response to text. Saxophonist Simon Haram was another profiled YCAT star, playing the Ibert Concertino da Camera with impressive, lyrically laid-back flair.

But the question that needs to be asked is whether in those 10 years YCAT has picked enough winners, given the talent available. Judging from this concert, it hasn't. First there was a fashion-conscious chamber orchestra called Eos playing the worst Mozart Sinfonia Concertante - brazen, brutal, crude, unstylish - I've ever heard from a professional ensemble. If they thought the feeble light-show that immersed their players in successive colour-washes made things better, they were wrong.

Then there was a new piece by YCAT's associate composer Andrew Toovey: a grotesquely overblown trash-fantasy on themes from Chopin that was, I suppose, meant to be an hommage in the manner of the Schumann pieces Robin Holloway was writing in the Seventies. But Holloway made love to Schumann, with a passionate integrity. What Toovey does to Chopin is indictable: assault with a designer-weapon and a chic, monosyllabic title, Out!, which is the word YCAT should have used when it first saw the score. To squander resources on such a work does no credit to YCAT, the sole provider of an important service.

The other anniversary was infinitely more worthy: a 60th- birthday concert for Peter Dickinson at the Purcell Room, featuring his own work and work by the composers he has most admired. It was designed to show where Dickinson has come from as an artist: basically the petit maitres of the modern French school (Satie, Milhaud, Poulenc), and gentlemanly English eccen-trics like Lord Berners. He writes with the ear of a parodist and the eye of a collector, incorporating "found" objects (often jazz vernacular) into his scores and toying with their implications. The result tends to be gesturally small - more decorative than demonstrative - but always elegantly crafted. You could call him a late 20th-century Lennox Berkeley, and I don't think he'd object to the comparison. It's wholly honourable.

The choir of Clare College, Cambridge, had a "found" object of their own in their excellent all-Britten concert at St John's Smith Square on Wed-nesday: a Christmas carol sequence that Britten wrote aged 17. It wasn't published until earlier this year when Faber brought it out under the title Christ's Nativity (though Britten called it Thy King's Birthday); and the fascination of the score is that it so obviously prefaces the two great choral sequences A Boy was Born and A Ceremony of Carols which for many (me included) are the jewels of the English Christmas repertory. Clare Choir, under its director Tim Brown, did the work credit with a strong ensemble and some very fine young solo voices.

Opera in Ireland has an odd pathology. It breaks out in fierce, local epidemics - there is no national provision, even if anyone could agree what "national" meant - with a determinedly international tendency. Productions, however modest, tend to draw their casts from all corners of the globe. And that's what happens in Dublin where the quaintly genteel Dublin Grand Opera Society is in the process of transforming itself into a forward-looking Opera Ireland (clinging, for the time being, to both names).

Earlier this year DGOS Opera Ireland appointed a new artistic director, Dorothea Glatt, who for the past 20 years has been Wolfgang Wagner's assistant at Bayreuth. The two productions in her winter season, Hansel und Gretel (brand new) and La Traviata (imported from Marseilles) were running in Dublin last weekend, and it was no surprise to find that many of the singers were themselves ex-Bayreuth: appropriate for the Humperdink, which is Wagner with charm, less so for the Verdi. But it was the Verdi that worked best, on grand, Phantom of the Opera sets (all candelabra and cascading fabrics) with a Violetta, Marie-Claire O'Reirdan, rather hard of tone but pleasing. The Hansel was a dud production rising only into mawkish religiosity and mo re often sinking into stupor (or worse, when the end-of-Act II duet collapsed and became a solo). Nice try overall, but could do better.