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Earlier in the evening (Prom 5) we heard the world première of three fifths of Substratum by the young British composer Sam Hayden, an impressively steely-willed orchestral work unfolding swelling Birtwistlesque climactic waves sprinkled with delicate instrumental solos, contrasted by intriguing deep-layered doublings and denser Boulezian textures. Though completed some six months prior to the concert, pressures on the BBC forestalled the required rehearsal, and thus the première of the entire work has had to be postponed to the BBC Symphony Orchestra's 2008-9 season, late next year, a date which, from the evidence of the compelling weightiness and energy of the work, promises to be well worth the wait. Though not of the same level of 'difficulty', a sense of meditation on the inner psychic turmoil was also reflected in Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No 2, Age of Anxiety, inspired by W H Auden's poem of that title and thus in keeping with one of the Proms themes this year -- Auden's Centenary.

The symphony is a Piano Concerto of sorts, and here the soloist was the heavily pregnant, yet fully in command, Orli Shaham, sister of the outstanding violinist Gil Shaham. Her musicianship shone through this delicate and at times wittily jazzy score. Its six sections add up to an emotional journey that is unique, the pianist soloist intended as an autobiographical role, clearly differentiated from the orchestra. David Robertson danced balletically, recalling Lenny himself. Orli Shaham made much of the introspective beauty of the lyrical gestures in the Prologue and first two main sections, 'The Seven Ages' and 'The Seven Stages', displaying great technical assurance in the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto-like dialogues with orchestra. She delved into the lower depths in the fourth section, 'The Dirge', in which brass and later piano intone variants of the 'Dies Irae' with intensity. If much of the linear two part writing has a Prokofievian lucidity to it, Bernstein is perhaps at most personal and original in the piquant jazzy fifth movement which builds to a climax only to be brought back to earth in the Epilogue, which, retrieving its initial mood, yet transforms it into one of optimism.

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Copyright © 25 July 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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