Thursday, 8 April 2010

Alex Prior & Guests at the Barbican

Clearly reality TV feeding it's way back into the concert hall, this programme featured the subjects of a recent Channel 4 documentary, The World's Greatest Music Prodigies: five preternaturally accomplished musicians in four soloists and the composer/conductor/main draw Alex Prior.

Well, it was certainly an exhibition of prodigious musical performability. The first half amounted to a procession of showpieces. I won't bother to list them all (follow the programme link above). In general what we got was a pretty impressive game of tag-blurry-fingers as scales and arpeggios on the piano were replaced by flashy fretboarding and really very accurate harmonics. Simone Porter (13) attempted probably the trickiest of the selection with the Bizet/Sarasate Carmen - early lemon-chewing intonation may be attributed to nerves. You get the idea.

The opener of the first half was my favourite, the RPO nicely fresh for The Chairman Dances. There's lots of Gershwin in John Adams' concert fave, which I'd not really noticed before. Alex Prior's conducting style is frighteningly energetic, an an over-meticulous cueing of the band soon gave way to something more realistic but totally secure.

He was, in fact, right in the zone by the time the second half started, in which he conducted his own music. We heard the London première of Velesslavitsa, a quadruple concerto for the soloists at hand. The first movement is the most successful, pond-hopping with its folk-song melody and open harmony. The second also has this folkiness, taking it further east and punctuated by Lark Ascending style interspersions, but the ideas have gone by this point. One can hear the inevitable influence of modern film music and I think Prior gets a little carried away with the tidal use of strong brass. Yet it's a rhythmically tight score and I must commend Prior for his stamina in not only keeping the whole thing together but powering it along - as well as confidently dealing with the odd glitch from the youngest soloist. Such techincal competence is where a great hidden value in such a pageant lies.

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