Budget `97: Young maestro shines on debut

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The Independent Online
At last! The time had come for the great recital and the young maestro was ready. He had tamed his normally tousled locks (was there a hint of investment in some coconut-based hair lacquer?), put creases in his trousers, selected his tie very carefully indeed, and - armed with his score, bound together with a large bulldog clip - entered the chamber, to the sound of applause.

A little frisson of excitement danced among the Labour women, as they gazed upon the romantic features (ses yeux! ses levres!) and the muscular limbs (quelles jambes! quelles cuisses!) of their hero. All this and Colin Firth as well! But it was an admiration tinged with nervousness. This was the first time that the concerto had been heard in public. No one had any idea whether it was any good, nor how well it could be played. Silence descended upon the House.

It was a work in four movements. With steady, but economical chordwork the maestro - his music propped on top of three large, green books - played the first section ("Stability") al prudente. In a succession of single, melancholy bass notes, fiscal policy was tightened, golden rules of public finance reiterated, and the Modern Route to Economic Success underlined.

But if this created a suitably sombre mood, the second movement ("And Who Shall Suffer?"), with its threatening use of the pedals, told of windfalls subjected to new imposts, of frivolities (such as cigarettes and driving motor vehicles) taxed more heavily and of national debts repaid in a big way.

By now the audience was impressed by the sheer scale of the work, but depressed by its familiar structure and tone. This was a depression that began to lift, however, as the maestro tossed his head back and commenced the third and most innovative part of the piece, "In Place of Welfare There Shall Be Work".

Here the left hand - playing the optimistic lighter notes - was complemented by the right, heavily plunking at the bass keys; good things would be provided, but idleness was no longer a choice. One interesting variation on an old musical theme was that youngsters could be used to insulate old folk's houses; young lags for old. Those who remembered the war hummed along.

Then came the moment that most of the audience had hoped for: the emotional uptempo fourth movement, "Let there Be Dosh". This section consisted of one grand sequence, repeated generoso three times. Each sequence began with a series of low notes (the problem), broke out into an upbeat and faster period of melody (the solution), and finally swelled to a climax full of promise (an extra billion on health, on education, on school buildings).

Now tears shone on old ladies' cheeks as - with acclaim ringing in his ears the maestro smiled, bowed and sat down, leaving amazement that such music should have issued from such an instrument. After that, with the last notes dying away, a little bald bloke came on stage and bad-temperedly banged a tambourine for a minute or two. But no one was much interested; they had heard the only performance that mattered.