About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network


Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Coming Home

Royal Festival Hall
03/15/1999 -  
Nicholas Maw Odyssey
Simon Rattle (conductor)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Like Homer's, Nicholas Maw's Odyssey is on a massive scale. It explores the many possibilities of identity and pleasure in depth, though variations on a rich theme, before resolving to a simple, restful unison E flat. Simon Rattle, who introduced tonight's performance with unpatronising clarity, gave his television series on twentieth-century music the title Leaving home because the century seems to move away from the tonal and formal securities of classicism and romanticism. Maw, unusually for a composer of the same generation as Birtwhistle, comes home not to the past but to the musical conclusion of a complex debate between different forces and temptations.

Maw worked on Odyssey from 1972 to 1985. The course of its movements reflects both the development of his interest towards tonality in this period and the musical ghosts which a twentieth-century composer cannot ignore. A tense but texturally diffuse introduction servers as a long down-beat, followed by a first movement which states and develops a fourty-four bar theme in distorted classical style. A contrastingly playful second movement, with almost twee harp interludes, evokes the English musical tradition "from the reign of both Elizabeths", as Rattle put it, though the dominant spirit is inevitably Britten. The third movement reintroduces the main theme, transformed, in an extended romantic ramble, in the spirit of Bruckner, with many unison melodic passages. The fourth movement reintegrates the different traditions in a dense but excited romp that ends in an explosive epilogue and the quiet coda, where it all has been heading in both time and tonality.

Each section of Odyssey is introduced by a "time chord", a loose-textured chime with occasional ticking, based on the sound of a clock that Maw grew up with. If you can spot it, this is a useful cue that a new section is starting, but the appeal of the work certainly doesn't depend on its formal structure, which in any case is too massive to take in on a single hearing. Rather, the pleasure is in the way Maw builds up musical interest by reinventing familiar musical ideas from different traditions so that they work in dialogue at many levels towards a single point. The extended third movement, in particular, contains many enjoyable sections that flow from each other apparently going nowhere much but actually building up an underlying sense of purpose and tension.

Simon Rattle commented that Odyssey is a difficult work for the orchestra. It is the longest work in the standard repertoire, at about ninety-five minutes, and it includes delightful but demanding solo work for all the sections of the orchestra. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was more than up to it. The orchestra clearly still has a rapport with Rattle, and maintained a great sense of energy and style throughout.

This concert is part of "Edge of a dream", the 1980s segment of the South Bank's Towards the millenium music festival. It is interesting to find a British composer encapsulating the century in such a comprehensive and personal way.

H.E. Elsom



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com