The Perfect Fool – Ballet Music
Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra in Three Movements
Symphony No.1 in E flat

Jonathan Raper (percussion)

Trinity College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Peter Stark

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 6 October, 2004
Venue: Concert Hall, Blackheath Halls, London SE3

The opportunity to experience a Bax symphony live remains rare; so hearty congratulations to Trinity College for programming the first of Arnold Bax’s seven symphonies. Maybe more will follow?

Peter Stark proved a sympathetic interpreter although he didn’t always disguise the sections of each of the three movements and, indeed, by marking episodes off with less than organic tempo relationships he tended to weaken the structure, certainly the first movement, which emerged as lacking integration. Some tuning and intonational difficulties took a while to establish itself, but, after this uncertain opening, the performance settled to reveal a sympathetic and powerful traversal, especially in the tragic slow movement. Bax’s stormy, elegiac, and robustly resolved symphony was ultimately done proud.

The producers of the programme may like to consider supplying more detailed notes on the music being played, and ones in bigger print too – and on this occasion Bax was killed off a year too early. (A mention of why the advertised Elgar Romance for bassoon wasn’t played would have been nice.) I’d have swapped the Elgar for Errollyn Wallen’s Percussion Concerto (written for the 1994 Young Musician of the Year Final). Plenty of notes, but not much music as a parade of undistinguished, seemingly unrelated ‘ideas’ follow one another to tiresome effect. Jonathan Raper gave a virtuoso rendition, save for a temporary hiatus when he didn’t pick enough sticks up.

The ballet music that opens Holst’s opera was, like the Bax, somewhat sectionalised, and could have done with a little more preparation; the outer, rumbustious sections were just a tad too deliberate and the ethereal middle section overly sentimental. But an adventurous concert, and programming such as this is only to be congratulated.

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