Monday, April 30, 2012

Seabirds and Edwardian Opulence

The odd men out have been often the ones who produced masterpieces, often men under sentences of death or crippled on way or the other, completely deaf, tuberculosis or syphilis, obsessive to the point of madness; then there are some we throw into prison. Of course there are lesser torments, some composers needing to wear fancy lingerie (because of skin disease.) Of course there are just as many who sit at a desk and get on with their writing, ones who are impotent, homosexual and suffer from class distinctions because their parents were in 'trade'. I am sure you can identify the composer I am referring to, even down to the last mentioned who always felt socially inferior, lapped up honour s and spent his last penny on acquiring the fancy clobber necessary for presentation days. Yes, Elgar has been heard just recently, his first Symphony, conducted brilliantly and convincingly by Sir Mark Elder with the LPO in the Royal festival Hall (March 24). Boult depth and authority were evoked here (although the sepulchral bark of the muted trombones at the end of the Adagio did not quite come off). And imagine the insensitive audience applauded after the slow movement – Oh joy, whatever next? 'Coach parties' a voice near me grumbled. Elder's programme included another golden oldie, Delius wonderful essay in nostalgia, Sea Drift "I curious boy, never too close" (to the sea-birds, solitary guests from Alabama, as unlikely subject for music as Janacek's vixen) yet how potent and sheerly beautiful they emerge in Delius's music). Roderick Williams (solitary guest from not so far from Alabama) was a sensitive, poetic birdwatcher. The London Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra almost matched one's memories of Beecham. The previous evening in the same hall the BBCSO and Symphony Chorus – superb as usual – were heard in Tippett's poignant, powerful evocation of the horrors that overcame Europe in the 30's. Tippett's was an unlikely success. In 1942 he was clapped into gaol as a conscientious objector; the LPO was brave two years later in putting on the oratorio of a composer known not for his compositions but for his record as a communist turned pacific who was also a homosexual. A Child of Our Time is the story of a Jewish boy so frustrated by not being able to get the exit papers so important to the boy and his mother that he shoots a Nazi official. Tippett does not personalize his four solo singers; his trump card was, where Bach used chorates known to the audience, that he used negro spirituals, hottedup in the latest style, an emotional meltdown. It was a risky idea but it works, emotionally clinching.

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