Prom 51 - And the music?

Prom 51 featured Andris Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

I am a great admirer of Andris Nelson. I have heard and seen some great concerts under his baton - though never live.  His Berlin Philharmonic appearances are thrilling and his conducting of the Britten War Requiem earlier this year (shown online only in the UK - much to the shame of our broadcasters) was sublime and deeply moving.  His orchestra play with verve and the kind of enthusiasm you don't hear very much nowadays.  He is a young man with very bright future and a clear head on his shoulders.

Glinka: Glinka and Ludmilla: Overture

This Russian classic is rarely heard nowadays in the concert hall and all the better to hear it done with real vim and vigour - not the ludicrous race across the landscape that Pletnev gave us on disc - but pacey and light.  The strings of the CBSO offer all the variations of tone and weight a conductor could ever want for and as was shown here agility too.

Emily Howard: Calculus of the Nervous System 

I'm all for giving young composers a chance to have their works aired at the Proms and we have heard some remarkable pieces which were first aired in the grand ancient concert going ritual.  This piece was first performed under the baton of James Macmillan with the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra as part of the Wien Modern 2011. An esteemed world premiere, this was its UK first performance and for 15 mins the orchestra sighed and groaned.

I'm sorry to say I struggled with this piece - the structure and direction was hard for me to discern and was searching for patterns which were obscure to me and for my money sound without patterns is just sound. I'd really preferred that Howard had talked more about the music in the introduction on Radio 3 than the hopeless irrelevant  (for a radio audience) written quotes from Clavics by Geoffrey Hill in the score or the relationship in her mind with Ada Lovelace. So with no help I listened patiently heard what was said but sadly didn't engage with it.  I will try again on the BBC Listen Again facility.

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7

This was a wonderful, electrically charged reading of the symphony.  It scaled the heights of this long difficult symphony and plumbed is depths.  Nelsons handled the battle music without a cartoon element that mars some readings and he was supreme I thought in the slow movement crystalline tones extracted with maximum delicacy across the orchestra.  It was interesting too to hear so much detail of the score in this broadcast - the BBC Engineers had it spot on.

Nelson's conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in DSCH 8 and it is available - for a small fee - to hear and see online.  And it seems to me that he knows these works very well but he has yet to find a story to tell: his readings remain excellent and beautiful but suffused with reverence which obscures what he might like. In readings I've heard by Bernstein and Jarvi and when I heard Jansons conduct the old Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in this work, the music took and takes on a visceral life in the character of Leningrad at the time of writing.  The bite isn't brutal, the tears are not the tears of grief that he brought to that War Requiem.  But theree is much to commend.  My mainstay in this piece is a performance given by the National Youth Orchestra under David Atherton at the Proms in the 1980s - he and his young players tore into the piece and importantly for me applied a pretty static tempo to the last ten minutes - faster than we hear ordinarily - that subtle difference makes all the difference to me.  But as we know there is a world of controversy at the end of a Shostakovich symphony!

Having said all that, my very good friend Lewis enjoyed it hugely and I suspect he's more discerning than me.


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