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Douglas injected intensity and veracity into this slow movement, his articulation of the hymn-like theme resonant with purity and presence of tone, so that its return in the woodwind with the improvisatory piano commentary later on gained in significance, following the sprightly coquettish bird song of the central 'nature-music' interlude. One really sensed the quizzical elusive interrelationship of Hungarian and American idioms here, the modal tonal axis which interested Copland, Harris and others, yet which seems to emanate from Bartók's homegrown quartal harmony. His verve in the syncopated finale was energising, and though it whizzed past with panache, it was in the finely Bachian contrapuntal episodes that Douglas again made the music glisten, every note pointed up and tripping with delicatesse, lurching into the finale's overdrive for the fiery rondo theme and impelled impetuously towards the finishing line with relish.

The choice of the final piece, Scriabin's lavish and opulent Poem of Ecstasy, might be seen as a foil for Bainbridge's new commission: its climactic cataclysmic intensity both the opposite of the hushed silence of Part I and its Romantic, if symbolic, narrative drama, of anguish and victory clearly counterbalancing the reformative narrative of Part II. Yet here was also a visionary work that anticipates many of the concerns of our own neo-postmodern era, a work composed a century ago, fifty years after Tristan, contemporary with Debussy and Strauss, in which motifs eschew formulas, and insist on their independence from tonal centres, in that sense anticipating Schoenberg.

It is the prolongation of a dissonant chromatic chord rather than its resolution that interests Scriabin, whose fabulously colourful meandering through a myriad of unresolving progressions finally find their target only in the cumulative climax of the ear-splitting, hall-shaking, final blaze. Robertson's daring intensity eliciting the delicacy as well as the full force of the BBCSO, the piece came across both as Romantically extravagant, and as a paradoxical prophecy of Modernism which explores and goes beyond, like Bartók and Bainbridge, the boundaries of the possible.

Copyright © 18 February 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK




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