S&H PROM review

PROM 28: Ruders, Lutoslawski, Sibelius. Evelyn Glennie, Gert Mortensen (percussion), BBC Philharmonic/Thomas Dausgaard. Royal Albert Hall, 10 August 2001 (CC)

The Danish composer Poul Ruders recently made a deep impression on the musical world with his opera The Handmaid's Tale based on Margaret Atwood's powerful novel (DaCapo 8.224165/6). Studium, which received its UK Premiere in this Prom, contrasts with the polystylism of the opera, presenting a unified and cogent structure.

Ruders uses a vast array of percussion, placed at the front of the orchestra, with soloists on either side of the conductor. Each side is dominated by drums: bass drum (on the right/Glennie side of the conductor) and a more rounded-sounding Japanese Taiko drum (left side/Mortensen). Because of space requirements, Ruders was forced to omit violas and cellos. In the event, this is a clear example of a composer making a virtue out of necessity as the violins and basses have the effect of creating an orchestral 'vice' around the soloists.

The piece itself has a real feeling of organic growth about it, continuously enlarging from the opening sustained notes on bass drum and didjeridu. There is also an element of the theatre, with both soloists progressing to the front of the stage at the close, bearing cymbals.

This co-commission from the BBC and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra was a resounding success. The original soloists, the Safri Duo, were unavailable (in his fascinating pre-concert discussion, Ruders disclosed this was because of their decision only to play pop music from now on). The soloists who took over were stunning: Evelyn Glennie is well known to the public; Gert Mortensen was Principal Percussionist with the Royal Danish Orchestra for 24 years. Together they belied the short time they had in which to learn the piece and thoroughly enjoyed the theatre of it all.

The decision to have two intervals in the concert gave the Ruders time to sink in. Lutoslawski's Fourth Symphony, next on the programme, itself calls on an impressive battery of percussion. The BBC Philharmonic really showed their virtuosity, from the superbly realised brass fanfares through to the long-breathed string melodies. The strength of this performance lay in Dausgaard's ability to lay the score bare. In fact, there was a Boulez-like clarity to the interpretation, while still projecting the darker side of the score.

In contrast, the Sibelius Second Symphony emerged fresher than in most interpretations. Given the demands of the rest of the programme, it was a pleasant surprise to hear this so well rehearsed and prepared. Brass again excelled, as did the solo oboist in the Lento e suave portion of the third movement. It set the seal on a most enjoyable and challenging Prom.

Colin Clarke

For more information on Poul Ruders, his website is at http://www.schirmer.com/composers/ruders/bio.html

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