Monday, 15 August 2011

Proms 2011: Jonny Greenwood - Norwegian Wood - Suite & Purcell/Joby Talbot - Chacony in G minor (World Premières)

The most recent premières at this year's Proms have been a pair of arrangements, the first, a suite formed by Robert Ziegler from Jonny Greenwood's score to the film Norwegian Wood, the second, a new rendition of Henry Purcell's Chacony in G minor, by Joby Talbot

Greenwood's music was performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra (with which he is Composer in Association), at last Friday's Prom dedicated to film music • The augeries were ambivalent; hitherto in this concert, despite apparent energy in spades, the orchestra had proved itself lacklustre & even scrappy under Keith Lockhart's direction • A notable casualty was John Williams' Star Wars music, the opening of which was a mistimed disgrace, while the rest became a bombastic showy affair far, far away from the raw power of the original • On the other hand, the quieter music seemed to suit everyone much better, which boded well for Greenwood's restrained, even reticent soundtrack • It's not accurate to describe this Suite as an 'arrangement'; Robert Ziegler, the original conductor of Greenwood's score (& also for his music for the film There Will Be Blood), has simply extracted three movements to form this Suite: 'もう少し自分のこと、きちんとしたいの' ('I want to get a little better'), '草原、風、雑木林' (The Meadow, the Wind, the Trees') & '直子が死んだ' ('Naoko Died') • Ziegler's own contribution seems to be limited to a small extension of the opening material in the first movement; beyond that, any additional tweaks are too subtle to be noticeable •

All reservations evaporated in moments; the performance was superb • 'I want to get a little better' sounded as hypnotic as ever, its basic strand of material cycled round & round at different speeds, woven into an ever more tightly-packed texture • The entrance of the lower strings, a few minutes in, is magical, at first quieting the anxious tone of the upper strings, before getting caught up in their material as well • It's a case of blink-&-you'll-miss-it with central movement 'The Meadow, the Wind, the Trees'; for barely more than 90 seconds a high violin note slowly starts to become a melody, while beneath, a series of rich string chords shift & alter • One's attention is constantly pulled between the two, which feel connected yet somehow independent • Its brevity is no bad thing; as it is, it becomes a sliver of beauty; a lesser composer would seek to draw this out for considerably longer • Ziegler's choice of 'Naoko Died' to conclude the Suite is a bold & surprising one, abruptly changing the mood from overt lyricism to dark & unsettling texture music • The orchestra tackled the gear change effortlessly, distant bass drum notes triggering a weird network of double bass grindings • Particularly outstanding were the movement's two soloistic passages, for horn & cello; both emerged as, respectively, desperate & plaintive outbursts from a music that seemed impelled to slide ever down into a dark nadir • Personally, i'd have liked to hear the Suite conclude with 'クォーター・トーン・ブルーム' ('Quarter Tone Bloom'), a rich, at times Messiaenic, movement that would have been a rather glorious conclusion • As it stands, though, it does at least include the best of the soundtrack, demonstrating the range of moods & influences that Greenwood has sublimated into his score •

Jonny Greenwood (arr. Robert Ziegler) - Norwegian Wood - Suite (World Première) [12:11]
FLAC [47Mb]
notes

Joby Talbot's arrangement began yesterday evening's Prom, given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra directed by Mark Wigglesworth • Talbot self-effacingly gives full credit to Purcell, describing the music as "fiendishly intelligent & dense", on which Purcell "brings every ounce of his genius to bear" • But one could & should say much the same of Talbot's arrangement, which is a masterpiece both in terms of orchestration & compositional timing • The essence, of course, is simple enough; Purcell's basic material—a triple-time bass melody (repeated with elaborations above, thus becoming a Chaconne)—revolves 14 times • Talbot exercises patience with the orchestra, opening with winds & bells, slowly working in the upper then lower strings, adding weight with the timpani • At this point, just as Purcell himself was wont to do, Talbot tilts the harmonies obliquely, adding spice to the feeling of regularity & thereby momentarily throwing off the listener • He allows himself a few moments of ornamentation, but avoids becoming anachronistic by matching them with glissandi • He also holds back the music's development, returning to the wind & bells that opened the piece, & even retreating further, presenting the barest shape of the material • & then it comes as if from nowhere, a vast orchestral tutti, crowned by an emphatic brass contour • It's exciting enough, but what follows this climax is breathtaking • Talbot immediately quietens everything, staccato woodwind tracing the outline of the melody • Ever so gently, the strings take over, softening with every passing moment; & the final iteration goes almost beyond my power to describe: flutes, string tremolos, sliding violin harmonics, almost inaudible chimes, & the most spine-tingling tam-tam strike you'll ever hear—a staggeringly beautiful conclusion to an unforgettable arrangement •

Henry Purcell (arr. Joby Talbot) - Chacony in G minor (World Première) [8:51]
FLAC [36Mb]
notes

5 comments:

Discobole said...

However hard I try, the Purcell is still out of reach, having been removed etc.
:-)

5:4 said...

It's depressingly sad to see that only the composers with pop affiliations get a bee in their bonnet about these recordings being on here • Anyway - re-uploaded once again Discobole, so try again :)

Discobole said...

Thanks, 5:4!
a bee in their bonnet, I learnt something! not sure when I will be able to use it...

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this lovely review. Incredibly gratifying when someone reacts to my music in EXACTLY the way I'd hoped they would. I most certainly haven't got a bee in my bonnet about the mp3 being here. i don't know who would have taken it down. Not me - probably the BBC? Anyway - hope it's available again now & thanks again. Joby Talbot

5:4 said...

Hi Joby, great to hear from you! No, no, no - all thanks to you for composing such a lovely arrangement. i'm glad you don't have a bee in your bonnet(!) - i'm not sure who it was that took down the original file, but the replacement has been available for a long time now with no problems. Thanks again - & best wishes!