Prom 17 - Thursday night dance fever

  • John McCabe -Joybox (BBC Commission, World Premiere)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major
  • Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat
  • Ravel: Boléro
Clara Mouriz mezzo-soprano, Proms debut artist
Antonio Márquez Company
BBC Philharmonic
Juanjo Mena conductor 

2013 07 29_0385

What a delightful Prom - exciting for both ear and eye.  Proving again how good a conductor Juanjo Mena is and what a fine band the BBC Philharmonic are too.

The first half provided intriguingly contrasted orchestral pieces.  It started with a fizzy premiere by John McCabe. Joybox pulsed to a climax which was weightier than its sub 7 minute duration suggested.  It's a bit of a showpiece for orchestral sections a great variety of percussion, solid brass writing, solos for woodwind and a gorgeous Ivesian touch to the closing string passage - everywhere with jaunty rhythms and fascinating timbres. Touchingly McCabe dedicated the piece to the late Steve Martland.

I really enjoyed a sizzling Beethoven Sym No 7 - classical weight but full of vigour.  BBC Philharmonic wind principals have a special understated foundation in the orchestras - the opening unfolded without much sign of the vivacious energy to come - the attach into those opening chords giving the only clue to the pent up energy Mena would elicit and disperse until the moment of release.  Interestingly though there is much that is elegant, transparent and incisive about Mena's Beethoven - qualities we now associate with historically informed performance - he's not totally wedded to HIP ideas - so violins were not split bi-aurally.  But this is delicate and vigourous Beethoven by turns. An arching slow movement classical in repose but romantic in dynamics and emotional pull.  A terribly prim and proper Scherzo - brisk and full of the kind of quiet communication between players one wants to hear. Never too stately - it buzzed.  The Trio - which I now find less thrilling than I used to - was grand but didn't drag.

The last movement just roared along picking up speed, passengers and a heart rate as it did so.  Mena took care with the strings - this came over better in the hall than on radio.  All the background you get to know from 30 years of acquaintance was there and so much of it played with panache and most importantly for a live recording on a big occasion, without panic or showboating.  Fantastic coda - people were bouncing in their seats by end - had the concert finished there the night would have been a grand success.

Someone had the superb idea of getting a Spanish Dance Company to give the full ballet of Manuel de Falla's Three Cornered Hat but what we got was a complete tour de force of Spanish dance ancient and modern.  Before that the second half began with a moving dedication by Juanjo Mena to the victims and families of the Spanish rail crash. Fitting, sparing and well received.

Clara Mouriz mezzo-soprano sang and Antonio Márquez Company in this colourful ballet which I had heard in Manchester earlier this year. And wrote about here.  Mouriz is a most wonderful singer and was somewhat overshadow here - but catch her if you can.

Its a brilliant, funny and exhilarating ballet and the BBC Philharmonic showing huge skill as a classical ballet orchestra - alert to every move by dancers.  The prommers were entranced though I'm sure some of the radio audience were left bemused as the sound of Spanish heels vied with the orchestra for radio bandwidth.  It work so wonderfully in the hall and was recorded for later viewing here for a while

BBC Philharmonic were poised, fiery and delicate as score required - well versed in the score from a recording and concert - but the dancers were tremendous too: it was a magnificent team effort. And thousands of thrilled Prommers (at this sell out concert) were blown away by the dancers skill on that thin piece of stage added onto the RAH platform for the occasion.

Obviously semi-staged opera is well established but making an event - born out of radio let's remember - a more visual experience at the Proms more risky. So this was a prom for television and video AND a show in the hall in a way we've not experienced before. That said it was thrilling, beautiful, exciting and complemented the music wonderfully - and that last bit will be hard to better.

But the de Falla was not the last - out of the applause grew a five minute flamenco routine - full on, fast and furious.  Most of us were agog at the dancers when it became clear in the applause that Mena had crept onto the podium and started Ravel's Bolero - the - dancers joined in.  What followed was a mix of solo/paired and group dancing - a fusion of styles including some modern dance to match the mood of the piece.  Antonio Márquez had hearts throbbing, feet tapping and senses baffled especially when - as dancers are given, he went off the rigid rhythmical structure of Ravel's pantechnicon into elaborations. I heard that Mena had been schooling musicians to listen to dancer's rhythms for months - it had an additional frisson as musicians and dancers navigated a path through the piece.

It brought the house down as well it might - complete art work (as that German also featured at this Prom was known to demand) filled all the senses and orchestra dancers and conductor were radiant in each others glory.  Sadly too little was heard of Clara Mouriz - her voice rang out across the Hall with power and acute sympathy for the words.

As I left people are talking in hallowed terms about this concert - musicians included.  Later in the week Wagnerians who'd given themselves a night off were kicking themselves at missing it and many were keen to see it on TV.

To be there was something special - not only because of the brilliant show put on by the dancers because the BBC Philharmonic were trying something new and very clever. It's worth recalling that Bolero is not a ballet after all. On the basis of this concert and what I've heard last season the BBC Philharmonic is, I think, the finest orchestra in the land at the moment.  Their skills in many types of music, their tone and concentration and above all their confidence in their conductors shines through.  I'm so looking forward to their next Proms.


Popular Posts