At last year’s Proms, Helen Grime’s focus was on the night; her latest orchestral work—the first in her rôle as Associate Composer to the Hallé Orchestra—continues that theme, in part taking its inspiration from a poem by D. H. Lawrence, title ‘Week-night service’, which begins thus:
The five old bells
Are hurrying and eagerly calling,
They know, but clamorously falling
Into gabbling incoherence, never resting,
Like spattering showers from a bursten sky-rocket dropping
In splashes of sound, endlessly, never stopping.
It is to Lawrence’s striking bell-imagery that Grime is most drawn in her work Near Midnight, although less in the guise of obvious peals than in insistent material & a decidedly restless mood. Where both are concerned, i suppose one should dispatch an obvious bugbear at the outset. Writing about Night Songs last August, i described the obvious similarity of some of Grime’s music to that of her teacher, Oliver Knussen, & if anything that comes across even more forcefully in Near Midnight. Various choices of orchestration, the way certain sections of the orchestra interact as well as the treatment of the work’s principal motif all smack so heavily of Knussen that it actually becomes something of a distraction. This doesn’t cause the work to founder, as such, but the episodes where traces of influence are less obvious are so engaging that one only wishes there were more of them. These are to be found in the work’s softer, less focussed passages, where the orchestra’s seemingly inescapable urge for chatter—this is a very noisy midnight—is abated. Here, Grime makes things magical by polarising her forces into very high & low registers, such as the section a couple of minutes in, where high flutes sing out over deep rumbling punctuations, as well as the work’s third section, in which slow, meandering violins emerge from an entirely dissipated texture to deliver what Grime calls the work’s “melodic core”. Read more