Monday, 27 April 2015

And now, some music

Escaping the misery of the election, my union casework, the discovery that the Teachers' Pension Scheme appears to think I've made no contributions since 2008 and the realisation that even if they do find them I need to work until 2049 to qualify for a full pension at the tender age of, er, 74, I went off to Symphony Hall for an evening's music last week.

On the bill was Elgar's Cockaigne, his Cello Concerto, Frank Bridge's Lament for Strings and Tippett's Second Symphony.

As always, the CBSO played wonderfully, though there were moments in the Cello Concerto when the conductor allowed the orchestra to drown out the soloist, Alban Gerhardt. All I can say about Cockaigne is: just say no, kids.



I suppose it's a lovely Edwardian period piece, but it's not that far removed from what we used to call 'light classical'. However, it was useful in the sense that programming it alongside the Cello Concerto really showed how Elgar made the leap into the musical elite. Viewed slightly differently, you could see the two pieces as demonstrating the impact of modernism, World War One and other traumatic experiences on classical music. Cockaigne is cheerful, nice, hummable stuff: if it were a play we'd call it 'well-made'. The Cello Concerto isn't exactly serialist – the orchestral parts are pretty conventional – but the counterpoint between them and the soloist does destabilise the prettiness previously inherent in British classical music up to this point (Vaughan Williams' work also makes this leap, despite the efforts of Classic FM to hide the fact). The Cello Concerto is passionate, raw and sometimes anguished.




Rather wonderfully, Gardner played an encore - Bach 's Cello Suite No. 6 and therefore amongst my favourite pieces of music ever.



Hearing it live was wonderful: Gardner's phrasing really brought out the repetition and variations which proved – to me at least – that the suites were designed to develop a cellist's skills. It's both passionate and hypnotic, which to me is the essence of JS Bach's work.

After the interval came Frank Bridge's Lament for Strings. I've a soft spot for the overlooked Bridge, but this piece was unknown to me. It's actually a lament for a young girl drowned in the Titanic disaster, whom Bridge probably read about in the newspapers. Only 5 minutes long, it rather passed me by, though further hearings have revealed a subtlety I missed at the concert hall.



I went to this concert for the Cello Concerto, which is one of my favourite pieces, but the Tippett Symphony was a revelation: I like some of his work but didn't know this one. It's still good-mannered in that English way, but new, dissonant ideas are clearly coming through in this 1950s work. It also reminded me, somehow, of Copland and even Charles Ives.



Anyway, no doubt I'll be back to political moaning soon. Not tomorrow though: I'm off to the House of Lords to take my rightful place on the red benches for a work thing. If they let me in.

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