13 JUNE 1987, Page 47


Disposition of the dots

Peter Phillips

One of the most enjoyable concerts I have been to for some time took place last Thursday in Chichester Cathedral, given by the London Festival Orchestra. This chamber orchestra of 25 players, under the direction of Ross Pople, is currently tour- ing the country's cathedrals and will soon be playing in a prominent Gothic pile close by your very doorstep. In almost exactly a month they will visit 20 of these buildings, giving programmes of small-scale orches- tral repertoire with some large-scale choral works, the latter sung by the cathedral or chapel choir of their hosts. The formula worked very well in Chichester the other day, and I see no reason why it should not work equally well elsewhere. The orches- tral part of the programme was unusual and varied, and Haydn's 'St Nicholas' Mass, for which Mr Pople stood down as director in favour of the cathedral organist Alan Thurlow, made a grand conclusion.

In fact, the LFO seem to have a fascina- tion for sacred venues. On their forthcom- ing tour of Australia and New Zealand, they plan to perform not in the Sydney Opera House, where I once conducted a performance of Byrd's Five-part Mass, but in 16 cathedrals. I find this slightly odd. As it happens, Chichester Cathedral makes a fine concert-hall, which was why I plumped for this show, a preference supported by the proximity of the family home and an excellent French restaurant in East Street. The cathedral building is unusually small, or rather the nave is unusually short, which allows the sound to reverberate and am- plify, without falling apart. I notice they are not performing in Winchester Cathed- ral, where any note sounded in the quire disappears from common perception until it hits the west wall half a mile away, turning into a dull boom and doing little for all the other sounds that have followed it. But it is true that having to sit in any of these buildings is one of the great pri- vileges that mankind has laid up for itself, and if there is agreeable music to go with it, however audible, no one need complain. It's just that year in year out I should have thought that a professional body of musi- cians would like to perform in places where the audience can hear exactly what they are doing, where subtleties of phrasing really tell, where the dynamic perspective may have fine gradations. If the LFO's programme had been of chestnuts, where it would have been possible to make a comparison of their playing with a compact disc recording of the same music, the vagueness of even this cathedral's sound Would have seemed disappointing. As it was, the choice of repertoire was ultimate- ly the strong point of the concert.

I believe that everything must stand or fall in such an outfit by the 'actual disposi- tion of the dots', as my singers so prosaic- ally refer to different pieces of music. The future of an independent ensemble like this will eventually come down to whether they have a corpus of good repertoire which they can call their own. They can travel into the hinterland playing Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' for so long, attracting good crowds, until one day sheer apathy will cause the thing to disintegrate from within. The instinct to promote a slice of culture that is unfamiliar and worthwhile must be well-known to all readers of the Spectator, and in the case of chamber orchestras the patch is well-worn. On the face of it, a Symphony by Boccherini and a Sinfonia Concertante by J. C. Bach may not seem the obvious answer, but as it happened they were works of genius. The Boccherini m particular (his Sixth in D minor, op.12) was strong on mood, sounding half-way between Haydn and Mendelssohn, though in fact it was written in 1771 and so may be described as forward-looking. Haydn nev- er quite brought himself to use the same slow introduction to the two outer move- ments of a symphony as Boccherini did here, and this simple and uncommon cyclic method was very effective. The downward- resolving accented grace notes left their mark too. Here is a masterpiece that the LFO can justifiably market as their discov- ery, and hope that there is more to come from the same source. I'm equally sure there is a future for them in the orchestral music of J. C. Bach. I wish them very

hap - py hunting. Since quizzes seem to be the order of the day, here is a teaser posed by the LFO's brochure: 'Guildford is one of only two Anglican cathedrals to be built in the United Kingdom on entirely new sites since mediaeval times.' As so often with with my favourite cricket commentators in mid-story, the tantalising detail that inevit- ably sets one's mind turning is not given. Perhaps you can think of this post- mediaeval cathedral and let me know.