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The first work in the programme, Forest, was quintessential Weir. Starting from tiny melodic tendrils on solo strings, the whole work gradually develops from this melodic germ. It is if first Weir shows us the individual leaves and then, magically, builds the whole wood. Of course, forests are very much in the German Romantic tradition and Weir nods in this direction with the use of horns.
This was followed by a curiosity. Folk music is one of the essential ingredients to Weir's make-up and it had been decided to include this in the weekend. So after Forest, the three musicians of the English Acoustic Collective (Robert Harbron, John Dipper and Chris Wood) came on and played a ten minute set. The set-up was so curious and artificial, with the still seated members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra visible dimly lit behind them, that ten minutes was hardly enough for the musicians to settle in. As it was, they gave us a fascinating group which included modern takes on old items and newly written pieces; I would definitely like to hear them again in more relaxed circumstances.
Then Ailish Tynan joined Ridder and the BBC Symphony Orchestra for Weir's song cycle Natural History, setting four tales by Chuang-Tzu from his Taoist text The Inner Chapters. Despite Weir's use of a large orchestra, these were a miracle of economy. You never felt that Tynan had to strain at any time and her diction was superb, giving the pieces a fine narrative focus as well as melodic beauty. For me this cycle was the highlight of the evening, combining as it did Weir's genius for economy with her love of story telling. Each tale had a curious moral, some of which were as enigmatic as some of Weir's music. I have little knowledge of Taoist philosophy but can't help feeling that an introduction to it should be required reading for anyone interested in Weir's music. The way Weir writes for the voice and lays the voice out against the orchestra made me think of Copland (for example In the Beginning). The piece had great clarity, charm and openness.
Copyright © 22 January 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK