Saturday, August 18, 2007

Prom 45: Schoenberg, Knussen, Henze, Stravinsky

A great bear of a man with a proudly bushy beard, Oliver Knussen reminds me more and more of Brahms. He and the BBC Symphony Orchestra open this concert with Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, once the future of music, now almost a century old. Schoenberg is one of those blamed by those who think it all went wrong at the turn of the last century, although if they bothered to listen properly they'd notice the Viennese part of the Second Viennese School. Nostalgic memories of older Austrian music is an integral part of Schoenberg's aesthetic, and Knussen and the BBC SO brought this out beautifully in a delicate, poised performance.This is wonderful music, passionate, urgent and beautiful (yes, beautiful). It's probably too much to hope at this stage that Schoenberg will ever be popular, but isn't it about time people stopped being scared of him?

It's obviously a day for lookalikes, as with her long blonde hair and blue and white dress, violinist Leila Josefowicz reminds me of no-one so much as Alice. Quite appropriate, as it turns out, as Knussen's Violin Concerto (as all his music) is filled with a quicksilver wit that seems to breathe much the same air as Lewis Carroll. I've long admired Knussen as a composer; he's far from prolific, but everything he produces seems so beautifully judged, expertly crafted and heartfelt without ever becoming overwrought.

I've only started really listening to Henze's music recently, so this was a welcome part of the programme. Sebastian im Traum has the same Tippett-ish feel to some of it as I've previously noted (though considerably more tautly argued than that composer's somewhat more diffuse music), and for a brief moment there even seems to be a hint of Elgarian wistfulness there, which leaves me to reflect on how curious it should be that a composer so much in his own tradition should sound so English.

What can be said about The Rite of Spring? Everything and nothing. It's one of the lodestones of the past century, the last piece that everyone agrees about, as someone wiser than me said, and casts a shadow over anyone who wants to write this stuff we inaccurately call classical music. But really, in the face of it, it's better to shut up, as a good performance leaves discussion unnecessary. This was one of those performances, rugged, rough, violent, full of that contradictory sense that this is the birth of Modern Music, and also a monument that defies all who stand before it.

1 comment:

petemaskreplica said...

Erica Jeal in the Guardian describes the Henze far more articulately than I can.