Turnage: Drowned Out; Kai; Three Screaming Popes; Momentum

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Drowned Out; Kai; Three Screaming Popes; Momentum
PERFORMER: Ulrich Heinen (cello)CBSO, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Simon Rattle
The Lad from Essex’s titles (Beating about the Bush, Gross Intrusion) often promised sex and violence; but the earlier works, especially, were disappointingly well-behaved. Even Greek – the opera based on Steven Berkoff’s play – was, I felt, more notable for its lurid libretto and staging than its music.


Mark-Anthony Turnage (now 34) has, however, had the rare benefit of a four-year residency with the CBSO, of which this disc offers most of the fruits. The characteristic jazz influences in Kai for cello and ensemble – the only non-orchestral piece – still seem to me poorly integrated. But Drowned Out, the most recent composition, not only genuinely fuses other Turnage sources (Stravinsky, Tippett, Birtwistle, even Mahler) but goes furthest – not only via the obligatory saxophones but, notably, a solo clarinet at the close – in bringing out his latent melodic streak. Once half-hearted, now uncannily individual, this is heard already emerging to maturity in Three Screaming Popes. I’d hate him to abandon the search for a violence which isn’t merely gratuitous; the tension of Drowned Out is anyway vivid and real, never ‘pasted on’. The obviousness of the understandably celebratory, and melodic Momentum (written for the opening of Birmingham Symphony Hall) might, too, be a warning. But Turnage’s future may lie in the development (in all senses) of real tunes. The performances here are predictably first-class. Keith Potter