|Ilan Volkov photo: Alastair Miles, courtesy Maestro Arts|
Hamlet S104 from 1858, it's interesting because it's more inward, almost impressionistc in its abstraction. Hamlet, though, is a jolly showpiece full of colour and drama. An excellent opening piece, setting the stage, so to speak, and a counterbalance to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, (orchestrated by Ravel), where each "picture" tells a story. An ebullient performance, though, nicely detailed. The BBC SSO are an excellent band, and have worked so long with Volkov that orchestra and conductor understand each other well.
Julian Anderson is a composer whose visual imagination has stimulated and inspired his music for the last 25 years. Think Poetry Nearing Silence, Imagin'd Corners, The Book of Hours, the Alhambra Fantasy, Eden (sparked off by Brancusi's The Kiss) and even Symphony, which, despite its non-committal title, is vividly graphic, like a fast-flowing mountain stream such as in paintings by Sibelius's friend Axel Gallen-Kallela. Or, more recently, Incantesimi (at the Proms last year, with its multi-level layers in perpetual orbit, reflecting early machines used to explain the universe. Indeed, I think Anderson's best work springs from ideas sparked by visual stimuli, as opposed to literary sources. Thebans, for example, though I liked it (review here) isn't at all typical of his work.
The Imagined Museum isn't typical Anderson, either, but it's a successful new departure for a composer who writes more for orchestra than for single instrument, and this is very much a piece where the soloist (Steven Osborne) is alone, in the foreground.
On the Radio 3 broadcast, Anderson explained how moved he was by a B flat which Steven Osborne played at the end of his encore at the Proms last year, the note echoing into the vastness of the Royal Albert Hall. That note is thus the "found object" that starts this imaginary voyage. Thus the title of the first of the six sections is "The World is a Window" tiny single notes, stretch outwards in space, awakening the flute, then other instruments. Suddenly, the piano strikes off in a new direction, Osborne playing long fast-moving lines, darker sounds in the orchestra suggesting vertiginous depth. Anderson says the idea came from Janáček's study of wells in Hukvaldy. Thus time the "echo" is the sound of an object hurtling down a well, into inner space. Another transformation and we are once again in the open, the orchestra surguing as if on the high seas, the piano flying over the waves. The strings introduce a sea change, and the piano once more defines single note patterns against a backdrop of silence. Where are we? Although there's a programme - of sorts - you listen with your mind. In the fluttering figures in the piano line do we hear a bird, or clear water, or winds in an empty desert? Poetry is often more evocative than prose. You could listen to Anderson in purely functional ways, but I think it's rewarding to listen with an inner ear and wonder how the sounds act in relation to each other, processed through the effect that they have on your imagination.