Yesterday evening’s Prom concert wasn’t specifically aimed at children, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was while listening to Sally Beamish‘s new harp concerto, Hive. The work’s narrative is structured in a simple four-movement form, corresponding to the seasons of the year, beginning in winter.
This opening movement isn’t too far removed from the generic stuff pervading nature documentaries. Soft, shivery tremolandos develop into twiddly little downward runs leaving one or two wind notes hovering, culminating in a curious push forward into brisk chugging. For spring (~4:39), Beamish indulges in more twiddles in the winds before a duet between the harp and assorted soloists in the orchestra. It’s one of numerous occasions during the performance when the poor amplification of the harp is most obvious, sounding brittle and clipped when presumably it should sound nimble and fluid. Some restrained lyricism finally gives way to a brisk shuffling dance, coming out the other side in a period of noodling before Beamish ups the pace again, ending with an entirely bland, primary coloured climax.
Unexpectedly, Beamish gives summer (~12:50) some bite, starting out with edgy vigour and exploring nebulous, rumbly music that when it breaks apart, continues in a satisfyingly uncertain manner. It’s only a temporary off-piste diversion though; soon enough, after the world’s most stupid bird tries to sing, the music sags into an archetypal slice of British Light Music, filled with off-the-shelf marches, fanfares and flourishes. The work ends with an autumn (~22:02) initially characterised by a dazzlingly inventive allusion to falling leaves in the form of – wait for it – downward scales, before some rather more clued-up birds sing, the orchestra noodles again, everything winds down and the strings literally pretend to be bees while the harp randomly twiddles one last time.
Considering the Proms’ unadventurous track record, it’s actually not astonishing to hear such pathetic, patronising, bargain basement rubbish as this in a non-child-oriented programme. But goodness knows it really ought to be.
Hive was given its first performance by harpist Catrin Finch with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Ariane Matiakh.