House Music

Symphony No.1 in D, Op.25 (Classical)Stravinsky
Apollon musagète [Apollo]
Kleine Dreigroschenmusik [The Threepenny Opera]
House Music (Flute Concerto) [World premiere]

Marina Piccinini (flute)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Roberto Minczuk

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 13 December, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The classicising impulse in modern music was the thread linking three of the works in this concert. Opening with Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony made the intention clear, and it was a pity Minczuk’s performance had only brusque efficiency to recommend it: there being little wit in the opening Allegroor charm in the Larghetto (seldom can its stealthy crescendo have sounded so inconsequential), while the ‘Gavotte’ was launched with a mannered upbeat that undermined what followed. Only in the finale did Minczuk come anywhere near to capturing the music’s essence, though characterful contributions from the London Philharmonic woodwinds undoubtedly contributed to the more positive overall effect.

Stravinsky’s Apollo (to give the title of the work’s revision) ought to be wholly suited to a limited – in size rather than quality! – acoustic such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall. So it proved in a performance that, if a little light in the lower strings, was attentive to the interplay of stylised dance measures that make this the most balanced of the composer’s neo-classical ballets. That said, the depiction of the god’s birth in the opening scene lacked real cumulative intensity, with the three variations evoking each of the muses was far too generalised in rhythmic profile. Apollo’s two variations fared rather better in this respect, and Minczuk ensured a certain suavity of manner in the ensemble that is the ‘Coda’ – though the ‘Apotheosis’ then sounded merely hesitant rather than inevitable as it receded into the past of its creator’s imagination. Again, persuasive playing, from the LPO strings, helped to redress the balance.

Where Stravinsky distils the past, Kurt Weill subjects it to a keen irony – not least in his musical play “Der Dreigroschenoper” (the Threepenny Opera) – the suite (one of numerous inter-war premieres of note that were conducted by Otto Klemperer) opened the second half. Directing the LPO woodwinds and brass, Minczuk seemed more fully in his element here – bringing out the edginess of ‘Ballad of Mack the Knife’ and the slow-burning sarcasm of ‘Ballad of the Easy Life’, yet without underplaying either the pathos of ‘Polly’s Song’ or the barbed take on things-Germanic in ‘Threepenny Finale’. With Weill’s few concert works still undervalued in the repertoire, a persuasive rendering such as Minczuk’s can only be to the good.

The antecedents of all three pieces – at least in part – in the music of Bach will be pointed up by the inclusion of that composer’s B minor Orchestral Suite when this concert is repeated. Those attending this concert were offered the world premiere of House Music – a flute concerto by 38-year-old Australian composer Matthew Hindson, in which the soloist was the dashing Canadian virtuoso Marina Piccinini.

Hindson has apparently spent much of the last twelve years in researching the integration of all aspects of techno (the most-participatory form of electronic dance music) into contemporary art-music, and the results of his endeavour are there for all to hear in this new work.

Not that this is other than a fully ‘composed’ piece of music – written to push the soloist’s stamina to the limit and to keep the orchestra, expanded with liberal amounts of percussion, on its collective toes. House Music referring to domesticity as well as hedonism, the first movement – following its hectic introductory cadenza – focuses on ‘Kitchen, Garage, Workshop’ in a tensile rhythmic interplay between soloist and orchestra that only fell down in those tutti passages curiously reminiscent of thechase sequences in the James Bond film “Live and Let Die”. Its successor headed out into the ‘Foyer, Swimming Pool’ for an alluring if unvaried amalgam of flute arabesque and harmonic resonance, while the third movement continued on to the ‘Lounge’ for a catchy if over-long revisiting of the ‘lounge jazz’ that Claude Bolling made fashionable four decades ago; the orchestral tuttis, here redolent of “West Side Story”-era Bernstein, again undermined the effect. The finale then headed to the ‘Nursery, Games Room’ for an incisive workout that, by contrast, was over too quickly – at least in the context of a 33-minute work needing more than such ‘stop-start’ antics to bring matters to a suitable head.

Such was Matthew Hindson’s House Music: potentially a lively addition to a limited repertoire, not least when played with the panache and dedication of Piccinini and the LPO. Whether it actually belonged in this programme hardly matters after the event: whether the idiom amounts to more than the effective assembly of its well-tried influences is something that ought to give more serious pause for thought.

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