Last night, I was off to the Barbican for another concert, and, typically for the BBC, a mixed bunch of works with obscure connections, to please the Radio 3 audience who were also listening live.
The opening work was Schubert's Eighth Symphony, the Unfinished. It is, perhaps, my favourite symphony by one of my favourite symphonists. Although a minor key dominates, it is never depressing. The opening movement has many lovely tunes (one of them reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes), and has been set to a lovely guitar arrangement that I can just about play! As one would expect, this was played consummately. I was particularly impressed by gentle tone of the 'cellos when they had the lead.
Next up, a short work by Henze, the Erlkonig - the Elf-King, subject of Schubert's song. This was modern and slightly trying, but thrilling.
Next, more substantially, A Padmore Cycle by Austrian composer Thomas Larcher. I had not heard of him, but have long admired Mark Padmore, the tenor soloist. This was the world premiere of this work, which consists of a dozen or so short poems. The soloist sings the poem and the words are then meditated on by the orchestra. Some are very short, and some a little longer. They had the structure of German haiku. "The stones hesitate for a long time" "Your word is my guide-dog". The first one is barked out by Padmore, with appropriate crashes and clangs from the orchestra and its large percussion section. Each has a different feel. Many were "difficult" but some had a beautiful chord structure - I was reminded of a frenetic Gorecki. The singing, very high and frail, was done very well. This piece grew on me - it is the sort of thing one has to hear live - on the radio or stereogram, the textures and theatre would be missed altogether. I think I would like to look out for more, of even get the piano version.
Lastly, Harmonium by John Adams. Adams is well-known for some minimalistic work. This was a setting of some splendid poems by Donne and Dickinson. It started off with a protacted repetition of No No No which set the scene for very rhythmic diction throughout. I confess I did not enjoy it all that much, and even got a little bored. The Chorus was excellent, in the light of some slightly tricky writing (and extremely high parts for the basses), and it was interesting to listen to, but did not captivate me. As my co-audient observed, it was better to perform than to listen to.
In all, an interesting and thoughtful concert, where I felt I had enjoyed meeting an old friend, and was interested to meet new friends. It occurred on the anniversary of my first visit to the Barbican, indeed, my first visit to a London concert hall, back in the eighties, when I went on a school trip to hear Brahms' Double Concerto (with Yo Yo Ma and Young Uck Kim) and the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony.