Friday, May 01, 2009


In case you live anywhere near Basingstoke and haven’t yet visited the Anvil Concert Hall (opened 1994) let me wave a flag for it. First –class acoustic, comfortable, accessible (car-park handy), nice walk-about, helpful bars, interesting programmes and events, 1350 seats. Basic shoe-box shape but no right angles behind platform (Rudolf Steiner would have approved).

On April 3 I heard a concert given by the Philharmonia Orchestra (regular visitor) conducted by Lorin Maazel, the most fascinating director to watch because his technique must be the surest in the world. He is not always the most enjoyable to hear because sometimes he can pull the music about. I find his rehearsals more rewarding than his concerts, there being no audience to watch him.

On this Hampshire visit, however, Maazel did not play to the gallery and his performance of the main work of the evening, Sibelius Symphony no. 2, was exemplary, every detail cared for, but never at the expense of the trajectory of the music as a whole; amazing to be able to follow a cogent argument in sound, the material laid before our ears, fragments at first which gradually build into an aural and intellectual edifice. The tonal juxtapositions and subsequent resolutions that Sibelius composed are deeply satisfying to heart and mind.

Do you, listener, sometimes wish that the finale’s grand tune would come back a third time? But no doubt there are cogent reasons why Sibelius ended the work the way he did; granite-faced old Finn, he knew what he was doing. And so did Maazel and the orchestra; it was superb.

The evening had begun with Fauré’s touching, tender and apposite incidental music for Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas and Mélisande. After which we were regaled with an example of Lorin Maazel’s third occupation. For he began his career as a child prodigy violinist and nowadays his compositions figure in his programmes. Skuttlebutt has it that he paid Covent Garden a quarter-of-a-million pounds to put on his Orwell Opera 1984 which nobody seemed to enjoy. Perhaps he has a deal with the Philharmonia. At any rate at Basingstoke we had to listen for half-an-hour to his Music for Violoncello and Orchestra. On the positive side this was a good show piece for the orchestra which all departments played consummate skill. The work is not discordant all the time but it seems contrived by a clever mind with no heart. The composer writes that a subtitle could be dreamscape. Hm! My subtitle might echo the title of an old musical: One Damn Thing After Another (ODTAA). The cellist Han-na Chang was faultless, coping with difficulty Maazel had thrown in her way; but for quite long periods her cello was silent while trumpets screamed, strings sounded air-raid warnings, tom-toms tom-tommed, a lady rushed about the platform playing a harpsichord and other keyboard instruments, although we could not hear the sounds she mad, anymore than we could hear a player fingering an accordion.

Now in the Thirties and earlier, an audience might have walked out or made rude noises when music like this was performed but today audiences are more polite (frightened?). At any rate Maazel and his cellist were regaled with applause.

Could your reviewer be wrong? He is mindful of the fact that when Fauré’s gentle and perfectly proportioned Pelléas music was first performed in London (Sarah Bernhardt played Mélisande) the Times reviewer wrote that “its continued absence of tangible form, not to speak of it’s actual ugliness” etc. So, you see times and Times can change.

--- John Amis

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