Photo, Mark Allan

Monday, August 8, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

Following this recent premiere for Gavin Higgins,, here was another one. His Concerto Grosso for Orchestra and Brass Band (BBC commission) opens mysteriously, a slowly forming dawn, maybe, the band instruments distinguishable as a very particular timbre, and, at last, seven or so minutes in, some liveliness arrives with rhythms reminding of Jaws and Pacific 231, with nimble playing required from both parties, treated as one ensemble, if little to get hold of thematically. Shadowy and enigmatic music returns that seems about very little, emotions more to the fore in a sort of climax … but tedium is setting in … ah, jagged rhythms have set up some quicksilver writing, virtuosity demanded from the musicians, and received, exciting in itself, and, if somewhat cursorily, we arrive at a big finishing chord (its surprise element negated by the spoken introduction; a shame). Just short of forty minutes, Higgins’s Concerto Grosso seems short on substance, if not notes to play, with this listener left to admire the performance. The Tredegar Band’s conductor Ian Porthouse (playing cornet in the premiere) led an encore, an arrangement by Higgins of a traditional, lyrical Welsh song: memorable in this sensitive and sonorous rendition.

Ryan Bancroft returned for Symphonie fantastique, a dynamic and flexible account (without the repeat in the first movement and yet observed in the ‘Scaffold’ movement – as on Argenta’s recording – the latter from Bancroft a little too quick and needing greater timpani impact if nonetheless cueing clapping) that ultimately was more about orchestral manoeuvres than opium-fuelled episodes. The second-movement waltz had a nice lilt, and the cor anglais/distant oboe exchanges were finely managed to herald a restless ‘country scene’ of increasing passion and ominous (timpani) thunder. The witches of the Finale were a freewheeling lot, although the bell-strokes could have been louder and more doom-laden, but no doubting the exhilaration of the sprinting conclusion, the skirling piccolos or the unadulterated ultimate chord, suitably fff and glaring. Berlioz uncompromised.