Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bridge, Holt, Saint-Saëns Roth Prom 34

Whatever the rationale behind the programme of BBC Prom 34, eclectic François-Xavier Roth conducted BBC NOW with panache. They sound invigorated and inspired. Listen again HERE. 

Frank Bridge's Enter Spring made a wonderful opening statement. Enter Spring is contemporary with Janáček's Sinfonietta. They're inspired by different things, but both reflect the optimism of the late 1920's. That we know what was to come next makes that optimism all the more poignant. Bridge isn't miniaturist or insular. Birds sing in these hedgerows, perhaps, but Bridge's perspective is the boundless sky, the windswept expanses of the Sussex Downs rolling out towards the sea. What glorious freedom! Definitely not "drawing room" or stylized pastoral. You can understand why young Benjamin Britten, at the premiere, was blown away, and never lost sight of wider horizons. It's a sophisticated work - listen to the deft, almost modernist woodwind passages and the way they flow into broader strokes for full orchestra, marching progessively, relentlessly to the finale. Roth cuts the last moment defiantly - no messing about!

Bridge's Blow out, you bugles! is interesting too for it sounds almost more like improbably early Britten or Gerald Finzi. The vocal line is dominant, Bridge observing Rupert Brooke's poetry with great sensitivity. When the trumpets enter, they can't, then, feel triumphant. One chord is held long enough that it contradicts the idea of a bugle calling violently for action. Deeply ironic. Then the voice does a similar leap ("heritage"). No mistaking where Bridge's sympathies lay. Ben Johnson was the tenor.

Simon Holt's Centauromachy received its Proms and London premiere.  It's already created quite a buzz since it was first heard in Cardiff last year. Read what I wrote about that premiere. It's a fascinating piece because it predicates on duality. It's a double concerto. Flugelhorn and clarinet duel, stalking each other and seductively duet. A centaur is half man, half beast, two states that don't resolve. Holt's music is intriguing because he lets the balance hover. Like Bridge, Holt opens outwards into new dimensions. Is man trapped within beast, or beast trapped within man? Holt may be suggesting that there are things we'll never know for sure, but must keep an open mind.

Only in the second half of the Prom did the logic of this programme really emerge. Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony might have been written for a cathedral and a very academic organist but in some ways, it's an interior "open horizon". The Royal Albert Hall organ is never timid. Here, Thomas Trotter made it sing gloriously, of a spiritual landscape so glorious that it surpasses anything physical. Forget the cliché about Anglo-French Entente Cordiale. Nationality means nothing in the face of the sublime. 

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