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"Who's Afraid of 20th Century Music?"  
The Millennium Concert.

Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg/Ingo Metzmacher.
EMI 7243 5 56970 2 8

This live recording of a New Year's Day concert is subtitled "Who's Afraid of 20th Century Music?" - well, frankly no one when the programme contains such staples of the repertoire as Bernstein's Candide Overture, Prokofiev's march from "A Love for Three Oranges" and Khatchaturian's Sabre Dance. There are other meatier items on display such as Charles Ives' Central Park in the Dark (with a live audience either spellbound or gagged and bound so eerily quiet are they) and Ravel's delighfully " La Valse" (perhaps a cheeky swipe by Metzmacher at the traditional Viennese New Year's Day fare?).

It struck me listening to the disc that, if you accept this programme as truly representative, 20th Century music is characterised mostly by its ability to pastiche or send up music from other eras or genres. Examples of this may be found in Bernstein's overture (a Rossini/Mozart Overture model with Latin rhythms); Kagel's "oompah" Marches are also deeply ironic (the audience rather delightfully laughs at the end of these). Stravinsky's savage send up of Schubert's "Marche Militiare" in his "Circus Polka" is matched by Hindemith's exotic mixture of Bach and jazz in his "Rag Time" and Shostakovitch's Polka is pure satire from its woozy brass to its tinkling xylophone.

Some of the most interesting music on the disc is provided by the more avant-garde pieces. Anton Plate's "You must finish your journey alone" (a world premiere commissioned by the conductor) is an eerily scored miniature which sounds as though a big Hollywood score were trying to break through the teeming textures (more satire!). Bernd Alois Zimmermann's "Stille und Umkehr" is like a late-20th century version of Percy Grainger's "The Immovable Do" except that in Zimmermann's work it is the note "D" rather than "C" which is stuck throughout this serene and ultimately moving work (the composer took his own life not long after completing it).

The performances on this CD are all admirably alert and committed and the Hamburg players and Metzmacher are to be commended for displaying such an idiomatic flair in so disparate a selection of pieces. There is nothing here to repel all but the most reactionary of listeners and plenty to enjoy. I look forward to another selection of 20th century gems next new year (if orchestra and conductor are so inclined) and hope to see some British music on the next CD!


Paul Conway


Paul Conway

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