Scottish Dances Coates arr. Docker
The Green Hills o Somerset Dudley
Music and Silence [BBC commission: world premiere] Dvoøák
Carnival Concert Overture, Op.92 Farnon
Westminster Waltz Gershwin arr. Docker
Strike Up the Band Hope (arr.)
Opera Olio Langford (arr.)
Showtime Carousel Liszt arr. Torch
Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 Saint-Saëns
Jennifer Pike (violin) *
Brian Kay (presenter)
BBC Concert Orchestra
BBC Concert Orchestra 50 Years Young
Wednesday, September 18, 2002 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Party-pooping first. I havent heard anything as crass as Opera Olio a farrago indeed for some time. It would have been funny if it wasnt so serious: a string of opera bits slung together and re-orchestrated as required (badly) with a quartet of singers, not helped by ill-fitting English translations, deserving the anonymity the programme granted them. Brian Kay will reveal their names on the Radio 3 broadcast on 14 October. And thats why he was there to introduce the concert for radio listeners. Otherwise do we need somebody to read the programme notes? Mr Kay is as good as anybody in this role, better than most in fact, not least for being concise and confiding (like Radio 3 used to be) and he deserved better than having the music start the moment hed finished. Could he not have been given a chair? Or allowed time to exit? He was in no mans land at the beginning of the Coates having slipped in a well-timed viola gag as Robert Dockers arrangement of the voice and piano original begun, initially like Vaughan Williams then plummeting to bombast. Didnt think much of his circus-y Gershwin arrangement either.
It gets better now but hold the champagne. Gordon Langfords medley of show-hits is vibrant and virtuoso if a tad overblown and miscalculated: the banjo was inaudible in Hello, Dolly! And what he does to West Side Story a league apart and unique generically is unforgivable. Sidney Torch the architect of Friday Night is Music Night, the BBCCO a stalwart of the Radio 2 programme had a good go at Liszts Rhapsody, more Haslemere than Hungarian Plain but pretty stylish except for overdosing on percussion. Why do arrangers fall for this sop so often? Michael Pearces clarinet solo added some paprika.
Nearly ready to uncork the bottle. Malcolm Arnold raised the stakes with his dances, although its not difficult to imagine a wittier performance, and the drunken bassoon was overdone best to trust the composer here! Dvoøák opened the evening. Barry Wordsworth (the BBCCOs conductor since 1989) set a sensible tempo, and if the performance was a little bumpy and coarse, Cynthia Flemings rapt violin solo stood out.
OK, fill the glasses for a toast. This 50th-birthday concert celebrated the BBC Concert Orchestra, a versatile band that performs a huge range of music to an equally huge audience. It was in marvellous form, especially in the light second half, the highlights being a classy rendition of Robert Farnons Westminster Waltz, a gem, and Stanley Blacks brilliant version of Manhattan Skyline, played as an encore; good to see Mr Black, 90 next year, in the audience.
I would love to have heard Ronald Binges wonderful Elizabethan Serenade, and while the programming was understandably retrospective the quaintly-named Anniversary Chorus being made up of solo and choir singers from Friday nights of yesteryear the future was also on the agenda. 12-year-old Jennifer Pike is this years BBC Young Musician and she played with confidence, finesse and naturalness, and some nice if learnt touches; with a developing personality she should go far.
Anne Dudley is the BBCCOs first Composer in Association; her versatility matches that of the orchestra. Music and Silence, based on Rose Tremains book, is in six segued sections. Skilfully and imaginatively scored, Dudley leans to her classical side without hiding her film interests. Accessible without pandering, I did not detect the Bartók and Stravinsky she mentioned to me in interview (for "Whats On in London"). It was Humphrey Searle at the opening (although I doubt he used the glass harmonica!) and Lutoslawski come the last section (Concerto for Orchestra, second movement); in between the silver screen was evinced, more suggestive than descriptive, and very listenable as sound and atmosphere.