In 1920, Frederick Delius was approached to provide incidental music for Hassan’s first production of James Elroy Flecker, an Orientalist drama, not staged at the writer’s death in 1915, about a naïve Baghdad confectioner who was appointed to the court of the caliph Harun al-Rashid. only to be shocked by the brutality and sadism he finds there. Spectacularly staged, it was an instant success when it opened in London in 1923, but soon fell out of – and indeed continues to be – out of favor: Flecker’s graceful, fin de siecle language would have seemed dated back then; and the play’s depiction of a stereotypically brutal and sexualized Middle East makes it unrevivable these days.
Meanwhile, only fragments of Delius’s music have ever been performed with any regularity, although the British Sinfonia have now given us the opportunity to hear the score in its entirety, with a new narration by artistic director Meurig Bowen, who summarizes and contextualizes the piece, and beautifully voiced by Classic FM presenter Zeb Soanes. Jamie Phillips’s refined, insightful conducting made it clear how beautiful the serenades, nocturnes and tightropes really are, as well as highlighting the passages of hammering brutality and brooding darkness that expose the caliph’s brutality. Delius does something astonishing in the final scene, while Hassan, broken and disillusioned, joins pilgrims on “the golden road to Samarkand” and the music slowly leaves behind the chromatic anguish of this world and evolves into a timeless simplicity that almost defies minimalism. excludes . It is extremely moving: the players and British Sinfonia Voices sounded particularly beautiful here
A very different meeting between East and West took place before the interval when the orchestra was joined by Egyptian-Australian oud (Arabic lute) virtuoso and composer Joseph Tawadros for three of his own works, including the world premiere of his concert Three Stages of Hindsight . This is a great piece that plays fast and loose with harmonic conventions as Western keys switch back and forth to Arabic modes over three classically structured albeit interrelated movements. Tawadros’ Constellation uses Western guitar and Japanese kora techniques to extend the expressive range of the oud, while Constantinople, his “attempt to write a heavy metal tune for the oud”, as he puts it, is a dazzling showstopper is for both ud and orchestra. An enormously enjoyable concert by one of our most innovative and vital ensembles. And another reminder that Arts Council England’s decision to withdraw their funding was extremely misleading.