Symphony Hall ****


With everyone’s mind, Government excepted, focussed upon saving our planet, Brett Dean’s substantial cantata In This Brief Moment was an apt choice for the latest premiere of a CBSO commission, originally intended for the orchestra’s centenary, but postponed during lockdown.

It is written for a huge orchestra – some might say extravagant – including a vast array of percussion, two harps, organ, piano, contrabass clarinet, drum-kit, and for a brief moment a striding double-bass, two choirs and soprano and countertenor soloists, here Jennifer France and Patrick Terry, melding beautifully with each other.

Dean’s score makes powerful points, always impeccably imagined from this ex-Berlin Philharmonic violist, but the problem is with the text. We could already smell a rat with the Pseuds’ Corner candidacy of the programme-note, but once the piece got going, surtitles assisting, we really sensed the midnight oil burning as Matthew Jocelyn’s libretto took us through however many billion years of the earth’s development, including an interminable recitation of its various evolutionary periods.

In his attempt to encapsulate the entire evolution literature, Darwin’s Origin of the Species and Haydn’s Creation included, Jocelyn has landed Dean with a text which weighs down any musical inspiration, and I cannot see this huge work getting many more performances beyond the premieres from its co-commissioners across the world.

Under Nicholas Collon’s tight control the CBSO did a splendid job of delivering the score, as did the CBSO Chorus and Halle Choir, gamely tackling the gimmicks Dean and Jocelyn required of them.

After this, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (another evolutionary piece) came as a breath of welcome fresh air, Collon conducting with elegance and clarity (he made the concluding Sacrificial Dance look so easy – it isn’t), and the CBSO players responding with an almost chamber music-like transparency.

With that masterpiece still ringing in my ears, I turned on the car radio for my drive home and caught the end of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder from the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Edward Gardner. What a bonus nightcap that was!

Christopher Morley

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