David Horne

Submergence [World premiere]
Double Concerto [London premiere]
Concerto for Orchestra [London premiere]

Clio Gould & Jonathan Morton (violins)

David Horne (piano)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Clark Rundell

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 18 April, 2007
Venue: BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale, London

Although it has not lacked for performances in recent years, the music of David Horne (37 this year) has not attained the profile (south of the border at least) of several relative contemporaries, so this ‘portrait concert’ – featuring two London and one world premieres – offered a welcome opportunity to catch up with what this highly-rated Scottish composer has been doing over the last decade.

Each half of the concert featured a concert-type work preceded by a shorter piece. Submergence (2007) was written with this event in mind, and its fast-paced interplay of texture and harmony add up to something approaching a ‘concert overture’ – albeit a determinedly abstract one, whose calmer final section hints at much greater activity that lies beyond the confines of the piece as it stands.

It was followed by the Double Concerto (2003) that Horne wrote for the Scottish Ensemble. While the keen integration of soloists and strings inevitably evokes the archetype of Bach, Horne’s approach is both distinctive and wholly of the present. So the opening ‘Declamations’ refracts the soloists’ ideas through the resonating medium of the ensemble, while ‘Mosaic’ is a scherzo-like layering of the two entities in various and constantly-changing ways. The third movement, ‘Unbroken’, is more evidently concerned with continuity – creating a lucid tranquillity that the finale, ‘Grooves’, disrupts with its quasi-toccata stream of energy and motion; akin to an expanded and intensified take on the Baroque model. Superb playing from Clio Gould and Jonathan Morton made for the highlight of the evening.

The earliest piece on this programme, Flex (1997), also recalled Horne’s more overtly Modernist roots. Here, the piano variously stands outside and integrates with a small but tellingly contrasted ensemble, the latter assuming dominance once it appropriates the piano’s gestures on its own terms. Horne’s scintillating playing was a reminder that he could have made a career as a professional pianist.

The concert ended with Concerto for Orchestra (2004) – a work that lives up to the virtuoso connotations of its title, yet without alluding to any obvious precedent. Certainly the gradual phasing-in and frequent stratifying of orchestral groups recalls Elliott Carter’s masterpiece, but Horne here eschews any rhetorical grandeur in favour of interplay notable for its textural fluidity. Although a continually-evolving entity, the piece latterly focuses on a trombone declamation that opens-out its expressive profile – the music striving ‘onwards and upwards’ such that the ending is made decisive without necessarily seeming final. Vividly dispatched by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and directed with assurance (as were all four works) by Clark Rundell, it brought the evening to a propulsive close.

An absorbing evening, then, but there remains the lingering question as to whether Horne’s music, beyond its undoubted technical proficiency and impressive compositional fluency, yet harbours any greater expressive depth or resonance. Or are its qualities essentially those that are perceived on the surface? Judge for yourself when this concert is broadcast on BBC Radio 3 later this year.

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