My present thoughts are hovering around a concert last night built out
of the echoes, shall we say, of music in St Mark's Venice. The cornerstone
was Stravinsky focussed into his late flirtation with 12 tone technique
for Canticum Sacrum, originally sung in St Mark's. There is an overwhelming
sense of a mason working stone with a necessary but highly decorative style
in the finishing. The music glitters, cold on the surface yet suggesting
a warmth beneath. Texture is immaculate in constant variation of motion
and colour. Stravinsky considered the 12-tone technique a way of 'creating
coherence' in a piece. The earlier Mass, in sequence with Canticum,
is music honed to a high polish with softer materials in a stylised vessel.
Such an experience is illuminating, not least for the way it reminds one
of the diversity of such a 20th century master's continuous progression
and combination of ideas.
I had not previously heard Stravinsky's reworking of Bach's organ prelude
on Vom Himmel hoch for instruments, and voices for the chorale. Knowing
the original, and at times practising it rather uncertainly, this unusual
transformation staggered my senses. Again, the master alchemist. John Woolrich's
contribution was partly a unifying factor: the Toccata from Monteverdi's
Vespers arranged for the band, and a new piece - The Old Year
- collating the disparate strands of ancient music and Stravinsky's reworkings
in Woolrich's own summation of the experience. The near-end of the century
gathers old and new conceptions, from which emerge fresh experiences. Yes,
there is a danger of stalemate. Creativity in its keenest sense of all things
new avoids the commonplace and mere repetition. Woolrich embraces the old
and lays it with his feelings for the new.
'Stravinsky & Beyond'
The Britten Sinfonia and BBC Singers with soloists
conducted by Nicholas Cleobury.
Chelmsford Cathedral 26 February; Canterbury Cathedral 27 February.
The concert is recorded by the BBC for future transmission.
Basil Ramsey, February 28th 1999