5 against 4: Proms 2011: Jonny Greenwood - Norwegian Wood - Suite & Purcell/Joby Talbot - Chacony in G minor (World Premières)                                                  

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]

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]

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