Listen Up!

Fanfare: Listen Up!
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
Handel arr. Baines & Mackerras
Music for the Royal Fireworks (selection)
Spirit Symphony – Speed-Dating for Two Orchestras [BBC Radio 3 commission: world premiere]
London Flourishes [BBC Radio 3 commission: world premiere]
Electra [World premiere of concert version]
Proud Thames
Cockaigne (In London Town) – Concert Overture, Op.40

Joel C. Link (violin)

BBC Concert Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 5 November, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Reaching a two-year interlude rather than an end, this round of Listen Up! concluded with a curiously inert account of Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture, which not even the coarse-sounding organ at the close perked up. This was quite a contrast with what Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra had unleashed in Malcolm Arnold’s Electra, a concentrated, powerful and sometimes stark ballet score, for which the programme note didn’t make clear how the ‘concert version’ differed from the 1963 Covent Garden original, or who had made it. This was a performance of terrific panache.

Arnold’s distinct personality came at the right time, and both put into perspective and intensified the disappointment of the new pieces. London Flourishes slipped into a particular vernacular all too easily, and the Spirit Symphony, after a promising dramatic start (Holst’s ‘Mars’ hinted at) and some beguiling rhythms, fell into anonymity, functionality and ‘sounds like’ passages (Arnold and Copland, specifically, without emulating either) and a cop-out ending. Notable for integrating professional and amateur orchestras, albeit as antiphonal ensembles, the Kensington Symphony matched the BBC Concert Orchestra, a compliment to the KSO. Russell Keable directed a confident performance of music containing one memorable idea, a consciously borrowed tune from Handel.

I wonder if anyone thought of dusting off John Ireland’s A London Overture or even Bax’s London Pageant? Proud Thames takes one idea and swells it through the orchestra; fine if you imagine the Thames growing from a tributary but rather short of music if not.

The first half began with Gareth Wood’s Fanfare, which has done sterling service during the Listen Up! period; its rather solemn opening accelerates to Waltonian syncopation, and he knew a thing or two about writing stirring publicity. Stravinsky’s Fireworks was heard in an over-careful if articulate account. Wordsworth then set up a magically hushed introduction for Joel C. Link’s appearance, who was not quite at his best; the American teenager needs to shake of some influences and develop his own personality and musical instinct. His smooth but rather restricted playing didn’t quite catch fire, but impressed enough, although it was difficult to tell at the end whether Link was disappointed with what he had done or is just remarkably laid back.

Handel’s Fireworks music, what we heard of it, was gloriously anachronistic in this full-orchestra, measured-tempo version, with piccolos, contrabassoon and trombones, and proved a welcome reminder as to how this music used to be played!

Congratulations to all concerned with Listen Up!

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