Explaining the philosophical framework of Saed Haddad’s new work for piano and orchestra would take longer than the piece itself – all 11 minutes of it.
The Jordanian composer’s Alternative World received its British premiere. It’s divided into five interlinked sections with suggestive titles (in French) referring to tombs, shadows, nothingness and, well, you get his drift.
The thundering Idée fixe was a sort Prokofiev-style obsessive scherzo with soloist Saleem Abboud Ashkar (pictured) matched against a reinforced CBSO percussion section. There were some ear-tickling sounds when, for example, Haddad underpinned subdued piano with muted trumpets, as if the pianist was overhearing jazz being played in another room. Its disjointed nature was part of the work’s design but it still seemed like a handful of musical fragments in search of a larger, unwritten, and perhaps more interesting form in which to take refuge.
Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the left hand is also short but of much greater musical stature. Unlike his bright G major concerto this one begins in the inky darkness of double-basses and contrabassoon.
Ashkar revealed the poetry of the improvisatory slow section and the concerto’s underlying menace – the feral grin under its jazzy good-humoured surface. There was a rare, and fine, performance of Paul Dukas’s ballet music La Péri , a more erotic and highly-perfumed version of Persian mythology than Schumann’s charming but chaste look at the same material. Conductor Ilan Volkov handled the large orchestral with skill and let the fulsome musical exoticism blossom.
Debussy’s La Mer was also very good, with some outstanding woodwind playing. I’ve heard the waves frolic more energetically but the exciting finale gave us a whiff of ozone.