Sir William Glock – A Celebration

Pierre Boulez – Dérive I
Haydn – Piano Trio No. 29 in E flat
Roberto Gerhard – Leo
Bach – Trio Sonata from A Musical Offering
Elliott Carter – Asko Concerto
Schubert – German Dances D790
Stravinsky – Symphonies of Wind Instruments
Boulez – ’… cummings ist der Dichter…’

Oliver Knussen and the London Sinfonietta

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 18 December, 2000
Venue: St JohnCODE(0x1011967c)s, Smith Square, London

The legacy of Sir William Glock, particularly his years as Controller, Radio 3 from 1959-72, are a crucial and still (regrettably in some ways) controversial period of the post-war British music scene. So a concert celebrating his contribution to British musical life, far more inclusive than his detractors would admit, was only fitting. Although the evening was not consistently successful artistically, the atmospheric but often muddy acoustic of St John’s not always of benefit, the balance of works performed over the course of a long evening left no doubt as to the breadth of Glock’s sympathies, and the conviction behind not just his BBC years, but also his journalistic and administrative pursuits.

Oliver Knussen and the London Sinfonietta opened Part One with Pierre Boulez’s understated Dérive I, written in 1984 to mark Glock’s retirement as artistic director of the Bath Festival. Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 29 in E flat was the ideal choice to recall Glock’s considerable abilities as a pianist, as well as his interest, long before it became fashionable, in ’authentic’ performances of the classical repertoire. The present account was a fine one, though the interplay of Isabelle Faust and Imogen Cooper, with Natalie Clein attentive in the ’continuo’ cello part, was often obscured in the acoustic. Knussen and the Sinfonietta returned for a superbly projected account of Roberto Gerhard’s Leo; dating from 1969, this was his last completed work and a powerful, moving reminder of a singular voice in mid-twentieth century music whom Glock did so much to champion.

The relaxed intricacy of the ’Trio Sonata’ from Bach’s A Musical Offering should have made an attractive entrée into Part Two, but the seeming lack of co-ordination between violin and flute in Sonnerie’e performance was compounded by the resonant acoustic. No so Elliott Carter’s recent Asko Concerto, a ’chamber concerto for orchestra’ and an incisive demonstration of the Sinfonietta’s instrumental prowess both singly and as an ensemble (though the violist came rather unstuck in his solo contribution). Carter was another of Glock’s enthusiasms, and the consistency of his – happily ongoing – compositional achievement was trenchantly displayed in the present work.

Imogen Cooper opened Part Three with a lilting, soulful account of Schubert’s German Dances D790, music where ease of technique conceals unexpected depths of expression. Pierre Boulez directed the last two items. Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, that paradigm of timeless modernism, sounded poised but slightly blurred, the recourse to the original 1920 orchestration not always apparent. Boulez’s own ’… cummings ist der Dichter …’ concluded the evening. A brief (10-minute) setting of Cummings’s playfully inscrutable verse, the hieratic purity of the 1968 original was softened considerably in the textural enrichment of 1986, though the expressivity of the music came through strongly in this account; certain of the BBC musicians no doubt reminded of the heady years in the 1970s when Glock and Boulez did much to challenge conventions of concert-going as well as repertoire.

As an added memento of the occasion, a CD of Glock in conversation and performance (Haydn’s Sonata No. 52 in E flat) was included with the programme: appropriate recollections of a figure whose influence was everywhere in evidence at St. John’s that evening

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