Vic Hoyland

Ring My Bell

Paul Driver, 2009

Vic Hoyland's tintinnabular latest appeals, and Robin Holloway's new quartet is engaging, says Paul Driver

...Hoyland's piece is the completion of a grand triptych of orchestral works, all commissioned by the BBC, the others being Vixen (1997) and Qibti (2003). Phoenix, the composer told us from the stage, is permeated by bell sounds like the ones that punctuate the days he spends in his composing retreat in Palermo, or that of La Marangona, the bell housed in the campanile of St Mark's, Venice, a city to which the piece pays homage in various ways. The architecture of that five-domed Byzantine church is "contemplated" in the first of the work's two parts; while in the second it is the structure and contents (including a Bellini triptych) of I Frari that Hoyland ponders in his complexly mediated way. The six silver trumpets that heralded the Venetian doge when he went about are transformed into five regulation BBC SO instruments, but to glittering effect. The adjective "coruscating" is too often used of music, but is certainly applicable here, from first to last.

The opening moments reprise the earlier works in Hoyland's triptych, but the ceremonial, tintinnabulating character of Phoenix is immediately apparent. It so dominated the music that I was tempted to think of the piece as entirely made from the acoustical components of bell sound, as though the latter were white light that the piece prismatically splits into colour. There are other kinds of effect — luscious string harmonies, a dry, Birtwistlean ostinato for violas surrounded by pizzicati — but a dithyrambic, positively Messiaen-like scintillation makes the work continuously enthralling. (The segmented continuity is also very like Messiaen.) Four percussionists, mainly occupied with tuned instruments, but each allocated a snappy wooden whip, account for much of the glitter. They have to work uncommonly hard, as, in fact, everyone does. Litton put his back into this performance, and it told...