Tan Dun: Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra (UK premiere)

Tan Dun
Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra (UK premiere)

Symphony No.9 in D minor

Christopher Lamb (percussion)

London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur

0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 21 March, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

An arbitrary choice of repertoire! Tan’s piece swells the ranks of percussion concertos – is there much left for a composer to do within this genre? As in Michael Daugherty’s UFO, Tan’s soloist enters through the auditorium in darkness; nor is Tan the first to use water – Joseph Schwanter gets some percussion wet in his concerto.

Tan’s 25-minute piece palls long before its close. Lamb is required to interact with water vessels, making hand-noises akin to bath-night; or hit objects that rest on the water’s surface. OK, some of these water-resounding timbres are attractive – for a few seconds; they don’t stand repetition. What emerges is a catalogue of Goon-type noises – the originals were funnier – and the old ’beat the air with a stick’ sound failed to interest me once past the six-year-old mark! Add a banal orchestral part that wouldn’t survive too much scrutiny as underscoring to a ’fifties documentary on China – the players imitating the wind and horses’ neighing – and we have something that, as the Eurovision Song Contest has it, scores ’nil points’.

Christopher Lamb (principal, New York Philharmonic) gave a brilliant performance, from memory, of his walking-around, making-noise role – he deserved the long ovation.

Masur’s Bruckner 9 had both grandeur and an expressional uncertainty, which befitted an unfinished masterwork by an old, ill composer whose faith remained unswerving. Masur’s shifts of tempo in the first movement effectively marked-out contrasting moods but without losing direction or overall shape. Masur appeared to find a tempo relationship between the third (last) movement and the epic first; Masur successfully revealed the closing bars as potentially leading to more – Bruckner’s unfinished finale.

If the opening of the third (slow) movement was somewhat underpowered, Masur’s phrasing of the ‘farewell to life’ melody was as unaffected as it was moving. In between, Masur’s measured but heavily emphasised scherzo was ideally granitic; if only the trio could have been quicker and more mercurial.

Masur found, in the outer movements, a compelling balance between construction and harmonic originality, and the emotional burden the notes carry; rather too much, Masur suggested, for music alone. If the slow movement took a while to ’burn’, Masur’s uncompromising climax really emphasised Bruckner’s use of dissonance and, with it, the composer’s fateful journey. The LPO’s honed playing added power, resolution and sensitivity to Masur’s insightful and long-viewed conducting. A trenchant, closely-scrutinised, ‘human’ Bruckner 9.

  • The LPO’s next RFH concert is under Ingo Metzmacher on 21 April – Ades’s Asyla, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2 (Andreas Haefliger) and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben
  • Box Office 020 7960 4201
  • Book Online: www.rfh.org.uk

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