3. Allegro feroce
4. Allegro vivace
Palace is a sort of miniature symphony. In contrast to most of my recent music it is not at all associative or programmatic; instead I wanted to build a piece out of blocks of abstract sound. This “structural” notion is supported by the four-movement design and by the instrumentation, which is set up in four groups of four: four woodwinds, four brass, four percussionists and four “strings” (actually a group consisting of three keyboardists, who share the piano and celeste, and one double bass). As it happens, those four groups of four only rarely perform exclusively within their family units, and spend most of the time seeking other alliances.
At the beginning of Palace the musical blocks are still rough-hewn, the gestures fragmentary and the joints still fragile; although there is an extended passage of long lines at the centre of the first movement, it is the object of much disruption from the pianists and subsequently crumbles amidst some riotous hocketing at the climax of the movement: the broken fragments of the opening return and nothing has yet been welded. Continuity and cohesion come only in the second movement, a sort of fluid song. The melody is taken by the oboe at first, cor anglais and flugelhorn in the reprise, accompanied by a fluid mesh of scales and arpeggios; the episodes contrast in timbre and character. The serious building work gets going in the short third movement, which is cemented by a rhythmic ostinato (the bassoon setting off where the first movement came to its inconclusive end). The instruments throw material around above this ostinato in controlled frenzy. The finale (entered without a break) is decorative and dance-like, but is continually disrupted by a three-note motif which seems like a return to the rough stone of the first movement. The stone-music soon opens out into a kind of hymn (very blockish) which is succeeded by a return to the fluidity of the song movement (scales) and the euphoria of the dance. The whole edifice finally disappears in a puff of optimism.
Rushton peppers an abstract interplay of fragments, fluid lines and tutti proclamations with flashes of brass heroism, humour and drama to build four coherent, subtle but utterly compelling movements.
The Birmingham Post
First performed by BCMG conducted by James MacMillan at CBSO Centre, Birmingham on 9 December 2001.