BBC SO/Eotvos, Barbican Hall, London

Rob Cowan
Thursday 20 February 2003 01:00
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The idea of the trumpeter as anti-hero is one of many that make Peter Eötvös's animated Jet Stream rather more than a trumpet concerto. Speaking of this BBC commission in a pre-concert address, Eötvös alluded to the optimistic, loud, even heroic elements normally associated with the instrument, though not necessarily on the lips of Markus Stockhausen, whose artistry dominated Saturday's world premiere. Jet Stream (2002) vividly encapsulates key elements of Eötvös's style, the twilit sound frame caught on the edge of dream, the miniaturist's ear for detail, and those always fascinating textures, busy, translucent, constantly changing but expertly crafted. Stockhausen would face four fellow trumpeters near the front of the orchestra, their instruments invariably muted, like furtive loiterers goading the main protagonist on. He blew us screaming, quasi-jazz cadenzas, then would quieten his tone to a mellow cry. Although conceived as "the eye of the storm", Eotvos's solo trumpet is frequently given to introspection. Possible influences include Stravinsky's Petrushka (buzzing quiet brass) and softly trilling violins that seemed like a mirror image of a particular passage in Debussy's Jeux, which headed the concert's second half.

Eotvos is a meticulous conductor, less a stickler for tight ensemble than for precise colour or nuance, always alert to the miracle of the moment, such as the descending woodwind chords that set in near the beginning of Jeux, which he obviously relished, his eyes closed in appreciative rapture.

The concert had opened to the dramatic strains of his own zeroPoints of 1999, with its hollow steel drums and lowing timpani, where motives or fragments pass by at speed like spectral images caught from the window of a fast-moving train. Few composers on the current circuit use percussion with a more acute appreciation of their musical properties. And in my experience, no living composer has a more instantly recognisable sound "signature".

It says much for the approachability of Eötvös's music that Debussy emerged more as a near relation than as a dutiful return to Standard Rep. Eötvös kept Jeux on the wing, shaping the curves of Debussy's string lines with an ear for their sensual implications and keeping a firm hold on rhythm. La Mer found the BBC Symphony Orchestra sounding just a little the worse for wear, though the broader outline of Eötvös's sensitive reading still came through, especially in the stormy finale, which swelled to a rowdy and rousing conclusion.

The concert is broadcast on Radio 3 tomorrow at 7.30pm

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