Event: John McLeod, Promenade Concert No.23, Albert Hall, London
Review by Mark Tanner: Five stars.
I don't suppose Edinburgh-based composer, John McLeod, will have read many reviews in which he's been eulogised alongside Paul Newman or Robert Redford. Sporting a striking pose, complete with skewed hat, insouciant smile and cultivated goatee, one might well ask why not. Watching him leap athletically from his seat to take a bow at last Sunday's Prom concert at the Albert Hall following the London Première of The Sun Dances, left the audience in no doubt that McLeod's youthful stride owes as much to an animated life of creativity as any amount of porridge. Though he's had to wait a quarter of a century for a second performance at the Proms (the first featured percussionist Evelyn Glennie), it will have been well worth the wait.
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Knowing John McLeod's piano music from the 'inside', as I have been privileged to for some years now, having commissioned, premiered and recorded a little of it, has given me an insight into the man's perpetually intriguing sound-world. The skill of orchestration, of how to blend, balance and play-off the different families of instruments so that their timbres dovetail just as they did when first contemplated by the composer, is rapidly becoming an endangered species in serious music, for devoid of electronic frippery there is nowhere to hide.
Every note, hairpin and fermata is coaxed decisively into place by hand, just as McLeod's teachers, Witold Lutoslowski and Lennox Berkeley, would have done. Capturing a snapshot of Ben More, on the Isle of Mull, John McLeod's filmic tone poem explodes out of a vividly imagined landscape every bit as intuitively as Francis Cadell's emphatic depiction, its many short-lived episodes miraculously managing to hold intact an expansive canvas. Indeed, the fact that The Sun Dances (composed in 2001), lingered in our imagination long after the final vestiges of Beethoven's 4th Symphony and Mozart's Requiem had ebbed away is surely testimony to the music's colossal immediacy.
Congratulations to Conductor Donald Runnicles, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and, of course, to John McLeod, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year.