23 AUGUST 1975, Page 28



John Bridcut

Dedicated to "Sue, Sarah, Emily and the little man in the soiled lemon-coloured suit" (and may that speak for itself), David Bedford's new work Twelve Hours of Sunset received its premiere at the Proms earlier this month. Commissioned by the BBC, it owes its title and rather precious text to a song by Roy Harper, as well as some musical material. It describes a long plane journey due west, which has the effect in the evening of retarding the sunset, since the sun almost seems to stand still. Bedford aimsito convey the "Strange feelings of suspension, timelessness and perpetual evening" which accompany this experience.

He does this by creating as smooth and soft a texture as possible, in which there are intricate details (though none are pronounced) but no complicated rhythms; forsaken are oboes and bassoons — too reedy — and all percussion except timpani and gong — too brittle. The most numerous sections are divided heavily to avoid any one part having the ascendancy; at one point the score is in fifty-seven staves, and at another the strings are in twenty-eight parts — not therefore a piece which will be lapped up by every local band in the land.

.For nearly half an hour there is a resolute pianissimo with plenty of glissandi, representing the idea of. an evening that will apparently never become night. It is a bland, blended, almost two-dimensional effect in which Bedford works always for the total impact; there is no opportunity for any individual players to be highlighted, except perhaps when the six horns spell out a predominant five-note phrase, or when the timpanist repeats it with mortar-cracks at the climax.

As in the late watercolours of Turner, the artesan is concerned with the whole canvas, a whole wash; each stroke is important to the sum but meaningless on its own. At last comes a gradual crescendo to full-blooded cries of 'Sunset!' with full orchestra and organ. The climax is marked by a 5/4 bar and a flat-chord whose notes have not so far featured in this sharp-based piece — simple devices, thrilling effect.

This is really a tone-poem — programme music, even if the programme consists of nothing happening. The climax is musically essential, at least in such an impressionist, even romantic, work, but what does it truly represent? I suppose it could be the actual moment of the sun's disappearance: then the brief concluding

pianissimo could be the final dying rays projected above the horizon by the now invisible sun. But such a brilliant fortissimo is somewhat inappropriate to the least colourful and dramatic moment of any sunset. Far more suggestive is it of sunrise, like Ravel's in the 'Lever du jours' of Daphnis and Chloe, and Bedford seems confused between the two, to judge by his score's preface. There he lists three influences on him: the last page of lbsen's Ghosts, the scene in Ken Russell's film where Delius is taken up a mountain to see the sun before going blind, and the creature Morningstar from Roger Zelazny's novel Jack of Shadows. Now all three are, 1 think, concerned with the rising of the sun, and surely sunset is a very different matter. In his pm-Prom talk, the composer indicated that he had not "chased the sun' in a jet until he had completed the score: I wonder if he then had second thoughts.

He also joked about tile length of the piece depending upon the performers' stamina, and indeed John Poole took it faster than in rehearsal; the heat demand it, and it worked better that way. Even so, the restraint of the BBC's sopranos wilted a little, and they grew louder well before time. But the whole performance was carefully rehearsed and well disciplined.

The particular flavour of the piece resulted in a more cohesive programme than had seemed likely. First, Simon Lindley played Elgar's Organ Sonata and once more confirmed the view that he wrote best for the orchestra: even on so orchestral and instrument as the organ he sounded as distended as Felix Aprahamian's programme note, though he was not helped by an untidy performance and a blatant disregard of his expression marks, and Mr•Lindley really ought to distinguish between repeated notes and those tied. The evening's third romantic venture was Brahms' Fourth Symphony, con ducted by Sir Adrian Boult; he uses a walking-stick now, but his other stick-technique is unimpaired and vigorous. After the coalescent shades of the Bedford (an ordeal for any orchestra), every hue and timbre was exploited here: we were back in three dimensions, if not a little more, and, even without the aid of a selfish brat and his flashbulbs, the music was iridescent.