As part of their Isle of Noise series of concerts, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with Andrew Manze at the helm, devised an ingenious and entertaining programme of works not at the centre of the repertoire. The idea of using short Baroque works as preludes to the two substantial items was stimulating and effective. In arrangements by Manze himself, the Purcell and William Lawes miniatures laid out a harmonic palette of false relations and suspensions that found its way back into British music via Vaughan Williams and later taken up by Britten and Tippett. Particularly effective was the juxtaposition of the Lawes Fantasy, whose very original final cadence seemed to step straight into the bitonal world of the opening of Job that followed.

Andrew Manze © Benjamin Ealovega
Andrew Manze
© Benjamin Ealovega

Thomas Adès is a composer in the same British tradition. His Violin Concerto “Concentric Paths” is a work of intricacies and mysteries. The scurrying first movement challenges the performers to a race, soloist and orchestra literally running rings around each other. Here Anthony Marwood, the work's dedicatee, held the complexities and stratospheric writing together well, with the ghostly threads of sound only coalescing in the abrupt final bars. The long slow movement is the heart of the work, starting gruffly with stabbing chords and contorted melodies building to a crisis, which then dissolves into a gentler theme that seems to transform the whole work. Marwood grasped this new lyricism with enthusiasm and produced some beautiful playing and firm contours. The playful finale finds itself dancing, if with the odd trip and fall, and was delivered here with aplomb.

However, the real treat of the evening was to hear a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' great score, Job: A Masque for Dancing. The first purely British developed and inspired ballet, its initial impetus was in fact a potential commission from Diaghilev that never came about. The ball set in motion, the resulting project was an elaborate 45-minute one-act work of immense scope and unique drama inspired by William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job.

The lushness and sophistication of the orchestral style rivals the great works written for the Ballets Russes by Stravinsky and in particular, Daphnis et Chloé, by RVW's friend and teacher Ravel. It is undoubtedly one of his most accomplished and inspired works in any form and one that deserves to be firmly part of the orchestral and dance repertoire.

No British dance score has surpassed it since its 1931 premiere and Manze, with the LPO on top form, were clearly out to prove this point. Every aspect of their performance demonstrated its dance credentials, including surtitles explaining the scenario, with a particularly acute sense of the rhythmic, harmonic and structural map of the work. The first scene leading to the Sarabande of the Sons of God, had forward momentum, but also enough space around the notes to reveal the grandness of the conception. The violent music for Satan in the central scenes were truly evil, muscular and vicious by turns, thanks to sharp playing from the brass and percussion, contrasting effectively with the fragile lyrical music for Job and his family. When Job is finally broken and curses the day he born, the outburst complete with organ blasts, was truly awe inspiring. The final cadence, with its gentle dismissal of discords held the audience silently transfixed for the longest of times.

A performance to cherish then, with Manze using all his experience of conducting Vaughan Williams to produce a mature and thrilling account of this masterpiece.

*****