At 16, Alexander Prior was sent, by Channel 4 TV, around the
world to find “the world’s greatest musical prodigies”,
and then to write a Concerto for them. This work is the result.
In his introductory note, Martin Anderson tells us just how
talented Prior is, and that even before hearing a note of his
music, “I knew this was no ordinary fourteen year old”.
Oddly when I briefly met Prior, a couple of years after this,
I felt exactly the opposite.
What we have here is a very long, actually a too long, work,
which shows a young composer trying to find himself and working
through the various influences which bombard a young musician
these days. There’s everything from a bit of Vaughan Williams
in the solo violin writing - shades of The Lark Ascending
- some Copland, a morsel of Arvo Pärt, and some quasi-virtuoso
writing for the soloists, accompanied by rather dull orchestral
writing. The slow movement contains some of the sounds one finds
in Alex North’s or Jerry Goldsmith’s best scores
for film, but here it lacks the brooding intensity. To all of
this is added a Sibelian horn call. The little-boy-Chinese-tinkly
piano solo - at 2:45 - rather spoils things, and ruins any atmosphere
which has been built. The finale starts as does Carl Nielsen’s
3rd Symphony, with big hammered
notes, before launching into a tune which tries to be Hollywood
but because the composer feels there must be virtuoso writing
for the soloists all real momentum is lost.
Prior has garnered some fine reviews for his work - which includes
Symphonies, Concertos, two ballets, two operas, and a Requiem
- one even claiming that he is “No longer a Wunderkind,
he's well on the way to being a Wunder-adult." One wonders
just how often this particular writer attends student concerts
at the various conservatories in London where music as good
as, and, quite often, better than this can be heard almost daily.
Prior isn’t yet anywhere near becoming a Wunder-adult,
and on the strength of this work he’s not a Wunder-kind
either, but there is the beginning of a talent. Then again,
there are many more like him in London, alone. Prior will probably
become a big name because he has backing. And that is more important
than anything else these days.
What I hear here isn’t really worth our time. It’s
a poor piece of work, poorly constructed, poorly executed, with
a lack of real imagination and a total lack of flair.
Here’s an interesting point. By the time Erich Wolfgang
Korngold was the age Prior was when he wrote Velesslavitsa
he had completed the first two Piano Sonatas (1908 and
1910), the Don Quixote (1909) and Märchenbilder
(1910) piano suites, the Schauspiel-Ouvertüre (1911),
and the astonishing Sinfonietta (1912), both for large
orchestra, as well as a Piano Trio (1910), a Violin
Sonata (1912), a String Sextet (1917) and he was
about to give the world his first two operas Der Ring des
Polykrates and Violanta. All these works are written
in Korngold’s own personal style and are vital and urgent
works of musical art. Korngold’s is the work of a true
Wunderkind. By the side of this man Prior is a mere beginner.
I find that I cannot bring myself to praise this disk for I
find nothing in the music worthy of it. The recording and notes
see also review by Rob Barnett