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Seen and Heard Concert Review



Satie, Adès, Stravinsky, Turnage, MacMillan Martin Robertson (soprano saxophone); LPO/Marin Alsop. QEH, 30.1. 2006 (CC)


An interesting, if somewhat disorientating, concert. Apparently Alsop and her orchestra had been experimenting with playing order, so what we got differed from what the programme led us to expect; Satie, Adès, Turnage, MacMillan and finally Stravinsky had been the initial plan. Since she was bringing 'modern' music to the LPO masses, Alsop also gave a little spoken introduction to the works on offer, including snippets from each of the scores.

Satie's eccentric ballet Parade began the concert, complete with typewriter, gun (rather tame these days if one lives in East London) etc. It seemed as though the LPO enjoyed this outing into Satie's mind, with its obsessive repetitions, Franco-Ivesian cacophonies, its hanging bottles and key-sticking typewriters. It was certainly more interesting than Thomas Adès' Chamber Symphony, an early work - but given that  Adès has yet to hit 35, maybe all of his works count as early anyway. The piece dates from 1990, was written while the composer was still an undergraduate and is typical of him in the way that the musical ideas seem endless. Adès' aural imagination is undoubtedly staggering – he clearly hears exactly what he wants and has the compositional technique to achieve it - but the result can nonetheless lack substance.  The LPO played with real dedication, but given that this was a long concert, this piece could usefully have been sacrificed.

Stravinsky's Jeu de cartes, a wonderful piece, seemed to have received short shrift in rehearsal. Nothing was really obvious, just a feeling the orchestra was warming up the piece and Alsop's reading spilled over into blunting some of the characteristic Stravinskian rhythms until about midway through.

A Turnage World Premiere is usually a cause for some celebration, and this was no exception. Hidden Love Song was written for the composer's fiancé and is essentially an aria for solo soprano saxophone. The solo line is absolutely beautiful and the accompaniment has an almost ritualistic feel to it, à la Birtwistle perhaps, but with a softer structure. A solo cello part was hugely expressive, the saxophone emerging as even more haunting after it, and the inclusion of a harpsichord in the ensemble felt absolutely right.

Finally, we heard MacMillan's The Confession of Isobel Gowdie (1990), a hugely successful piece of uncompromising modern music. Alsop suggested a wider context for it by equating the persecution of witches to the 'persecution of the different'. The work was heard as part of the Barbican's MacMillan festival a year ago (see review) and if the LPO missed the hypnotic element of the music's opening section, at least the harmonies still glowed, and brass was raw and punchy. The climax was well-paced however and it was possible to hear – or envisage, for example, that one moment of pure fortissimo – a kind of harmonic bright orange - was a stage on the way to a rawer, redder place. This ending (where radiance meets dramatic dissonance) went most of the way to entering MacMillan's sound world and went most (but not quite all) of the way to being convincing.


Colin Clarke



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