The Concerto for Orchestra lasts twenty minutes, and is written in one large, continuous fast movement. While the work’s title refers more to the virtuosity required by the whole orchestra, and doesn’t tend to concentrate on particular instruments or groups, there is an obvious aural partitioning of the different orchestral sections at the opening. The first minute of the piece uses only the brass section, which expounds rapid whirling scales alongside a more thematic sounding idea, initially punched out in short aggressive attacks. These two elements are hammered out in different guises and indeed form the basic material for the entire work. The wind instruments enter next, followed shortly by tuned percussion and eventually timpani. It takes about four and a half minutes after the work begins, however, for the strings to enter, playing for around two minutes by themselves, initially quiet, scurrying and gossamer-like, although basically developing the same material heard earlier. A third of the way through the piece then, the entire orchestra is finally brought together. From that moment, the use of the orchestra becomes increasingly more mixed, as musical ideas bounce from one sonority to another, often in a kaleidoscopic fashion.
The work’s essential driving force is not this timbral interplay, but instead the development of the two apparently unrelated ideas initially expounded by the brass. The scales constantly morph, both in interval construction, but also in terms of texture. Always harmonic in nature, they increasingly become used as rapidly shifting chords in addition to the colourful, separated roulades heard near the beginning of the work. The thematic idea, initially spiky and angular, becomes more sustained and creates longer phrases as the music progresses. This takes on an increasingly yearning character in the work’s only extended solo, albeit accompanied and echoed, for trombone, occurring two thirds of the way through the piece. The incessant rhythmic energy which has dominated so much of the piece, begins to subside at this point, and leads into a surreal series of fanfare-like declamations, culminating in a ‘natural horn’ quartet. The detuned nature of this is underscored by other instruments permeating the horn statements, but momentum picks up towards a large chordal tutti, propelling the work into an energetic denouement. The thematic idea at this point, rather than reaching a moment of clarity, continues expanding, rapidly reaching upwards in register, as the work frenetically rushes towards its close.
David Horne, March 2004
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer