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David Horne Portrait Concert

Submergence; Double Violin Concerto; Flex; Concerto for Orchestra

BBC Symphony Orchestra/Clark Rundell
BBC Rehearsal Studios, Maida Vale - 18 April 2007


Those who have read previous reviews of mine will already know that I am well acquainted with the work of David Horne, since I am a student of his in Manchester . However, I hope this doesn't make me too biased!


That said, the whole evening in the packed Maida Vale Studio was thoroughly enjoyable, with a surprisingly relaxed and informal BBC Symphony Orchestra. An all-Horne programme was given under the direction of the super-charismatic Clark Rundell. The performances were all of the highest quality, both from the soloists and the orchestra.


David Horne's music is noted for its timbral dexterity and energy, coming from a short time working with electronics - many of the techniques and concepts in this work can be described in terms of the electronic procedures.


The evening opened with a work written specially for the occasion entitled Submergence; a work based on a strange dichotomy of taking a melodic line that becomes ‘submerged' beneath its mainly chordal surroundings. Normally, the fact that the melody is inaudible would be a problem, and sometimes it does lead to moments where the listener is unsure what exactly is the focal point, but somehow here that just doesn't seem to matter, especially since the melodic line returns Triumph of Time -style on the cor anglais.


Concealing a line within chords can immediately imply a kind of heavy stodginess, both of material and of orchestration, making it significant that Horne's trademark lightness of touch is still present. For instance, the opening is a dense, but remarkably soft web of trills and tremolandi , in the score looking as if it could be rather noisy and boistrous, but with a conscientious knowledge of the technicalities of wind instruments, realised with the skill of the BBCSO winds, it becomes little more than a delicate rustle.


Next came the Double Violin Concerto of 2003, premiered in Orkney with the same soloists as for this recording for broadcast, Clio Gould and Jonathan Morton. This premiere of a revised version, adding more players to the string orchestra, gave a much fuller sound than the previous performance with the Scottish Ensemble.


The soloists' role in the concerto is that of a kind of super violin, developing and elaborating on the material equally, and giving information to the ensemble to develop still further, as is the case with many of Horne's concertante works. Perhaps the most technical of the works we heard, the gradual unfolding of each of the movements, was still satisfyingly clear, though notably less hedonistic than other pieces in the concert, perhaps due to its undeniable links to Bach's double-concerto masterpiece.


The second half opened with Flex, one of Horne's most oft-performed works, and a personal favourite of mine. Flex is a miniature concerto for piano and ensemble, and like the Double Violin Concerto, the ensemble picks up and reverberates (Horne's term) the material thrown out from the piano.


With the composer as soloist, the piano kick-starts the ensemble into action with an electricity that continues for almost the entire twelve-minute duration, in what proved to be most supple and dramatic piece of the evening. As the work progresses, the ensemble takes up an energy of its own, and becomes the catalyst, only kept in motion by the piano like a whip and top , before slowing to an almost static close. Horne's notion of conflict between unrelated instruments did not, perhaps, come across as well as in other performances I have heard, but the later focus of the work, in which the timbres of various instruments become confused and blurred, was executed beautifully; the members of the BBCSOs' ability to blend such diverse sounds impressively coming to the fore.


The last and most substantial piece was the Concerto for Orchestra. I had attended the world premiere in Liverpool in 2004 with the Royal Liverpool Symphony Orchestra. This BBC performance was simply far more vivid.


In direct contrast to Flex , the concerto is based around the interaction of families of instruments, making the orchestration considerably more conventional than Submergence or any of Horne's other orchestral works. However, the drama was created from the virtuosity of the overall sound, the swirling scales of the brass opening being taken up into the winds, and then condensing into fragile micropolyphony in the strings. The piece is in a single fast movement, once again displaying incredible energy. There are brief moments of repose, as if the energy has been dissipated, lulling the audience into a false sense of security before starting up again as if nothing had happened.


The Concerto rumbles on to a climactic horn feature, when it seems that the intensity can't get any greater, the upward moving gesture with the out-of-tune quality of ‘natural horns' adds an extra dimension, which is taken up by the rest of the orchestra to a tumultuous conclusion. Special mention should go to the horns, with whom I know David Horne was particularly impressed; in fact he was elated by the whole evening, and rightly so, since all the performances were flawless, from soloists and orchestra alike.


This concert was recorded for broadcasting on BBC Radio 3's Hear and Now at a future date and on Listen Again for a further week.


Steven Daverson


Note: I was excited by an unforgettable appearance of David Horne when a small boy, playing a duo-sonata at the Almeida Festival with his then teacher, Geoffrey King. He already looked like a real professional, and went on to become BBC Young Pianist of the Year and, afterwards, a noted composer.

Do listen to him talking on video at http://www.soundjunction.org/davidhornepianistandcomposer.aspa?NodeID=0

and read a transcript at http://www.soundjunction.org/viewtranscript.aspa?vidid=6339 [Editor]