SIMON HOLT (b.1958): St Vitus in the Kettle, A Table of Noises for Percussion and Orchestra, Witness to a Snow Miracle for Violin and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 04S075
Description: Witness is a violin concerto in seven short movements, based on the life and martyrdom of Saint Eulalia of Mérida, a fourth-century saint who was tortured to death at the age of 12 in particularly gruesome fashion by the Romans. Holt proclaims himself fascinated by the obsessive faith of someone prepared to submit to a hideous death rather than renounce her faith, and the work is correspondingly intense and insistent throughout. The headstrong girl is clearly portrayed by the vigorous, wilful violin part, in seven scenes that the composer likens to a sixteenth century painting depicting episodes from a saint's life. Holt's music is highly dramatic, complex in structure, rhythm and texture; by no means wholly divorced from tonality but harmonically very free. The orchestration omits several key groups, providing strained, acid textures through which deep bass chords stab like thunder. At several points in the drama, implacable, crushing musical 'mechanisms', reminiscent of Birtwistle's ponderous 'machines' seem to attempt to grind the soloist into submission. The final section, in which snow miraculously covers Eulalia's body, is very bleak, the music's departing spirit evaporating into nothingness. To continue the theme of the abuse of 4th century saints, St Vitus leaping out of the cauldron of molten lead is commemorated in a short orchestral showpiece written for the opening of Hoddinott Hall in 2008. The music actually seems more related to the neurological condition to which the saint lent his name, in a twitchy, mechanistic, unstable dance. The percussion concerto deals with less weighty subject matter, but also treats themes of obsession; in this case the composer's uncle, an eccentric taxidermist who kept the tools of his trade on a table of odd objects, symbolised by the table of diverse percussion instruments laid out for the soloist. The work's ten short movements are haunted by enigmatic ghostly little interludes that the composer explains as having elements of autobiography. The piece is lighter in tone than the violin concerto, full of eccentric wit and humor, and a surprisingly expressive, emotionally rich rôle for the soloist, alongside some strikingly rhythmic passages of the kind that one is more used to encountering in a percussion piece. Colin Currie (percussion), Chloë Hanslip (violin), Hallé Orchestra; Nicholas Collon.