Proms 2013: Best of the rest No 3
Prom 30: An uneven Prom - I was left fascinated but not drawn in emotionally by Cowie's Earthscape "Earth Music 1 - The Great Barrier Reef". I felt sorry for Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's as the monstrous Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 2 seemed to slip from his fingers (literally). But I was especially taken by the BBC Philharmonic in Tchaikovsky Symphony No 2 "Little Russian" - what panache Noseda brought to the score - it's one of the best things I've heard him do. Magnificent and a further reminder that these early Tchaik symphonies are well worth our attention: for me more so than the melodramatic symphonies 4 to 6 - which have been played too much in the concert halls over the last 40 years. Noseda is an easy advocate getting just about everything right - especially the dramatic pacing of all those notes and a clear ear for Tchaikovsky's wonderful orchestration - one of the most enjoyable symphony readings so far in the Proms. As usual the BBC Philharmonic played very well with an extra acuity I think thanks to their familiarity with Noseda's style - a corker.
Prom 31: I attended this prom, the final BBC Philharmonic prom of this season and it was a curious affair too: it started with two pieces to celebrate the Coronation anniversary - Walton's Orb and Sceptre and Rubbra's Ode - both fine as far as they go, Susan Bickley sang with gusto. But meat was required but I think Bruch's Violin Concerto wasn't substantial enough. Vilde Frang had impressed in her Chamber Prom - the first of the season carving a pathway through the Lutoslawski Partita (mentioned here). She was a strong and unsentimental interpreter of the Bruch - no dallying over the second movements longeurs. She played the concerto well with cleared headed expression and a great deal of musicality which so often lost in the rush for the sentimental strains in the famous slow movement by others. Much more to my taste was her encore, a curious little "Norwegian folk song"which turned out to be Bjarne Brustad's Veslefrikk. She hushed the large audience and brought a great deal of intimate story telling in the piece despite it only lasting a few minutes.
The real meat of this concert was the reading of Korngold's astounding Symphony in F - a mature piece by a master of the orchestra but little known, even less appreciated: it's very compelling. Here again it was a sense of line and "story" (though there is no programme to the work) and it was film music written large to a certain extent but the melodic quality and very fine orchestration made it wonderfully compelling at this, my first hearing. John Storgårds - a hard working conductor on the podium - gave it his all and showed off the marvellous virtuosity of this orchestra. His personal feeling of the work is plain to hear and see. It's a very accessible work and I'll look forward to hearing it again.
Prom 33: No such joy in the picky pedestrian Symphonie Fantastique from Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra - a dreary Mittel European reading of a distinctly dazzling, varied French work. This was elegantly played, though I do find there's less character in the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra than in it's pomp under conductors like Maazel, Kubelik and Jochum. Jansons delivered the score but to me it was as flat as a pancake compared to Minkowski and Dudemel. Thank goodness Uchida had enlivened Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto - she remains for me beautifully crystalline Beethoven pianist - this was piano playing to savour. It was sad just how uninspiring I had found this orchestra/conductor were though....until their encore.
Ligeti's Concert Romanesc is a fantastic piece - a homage/reaction in part to bigger works by Bartok. It is superlative in it's orchestration, yet hardly known. It's folk roots are superbly written into a modern style and it has plenty of Ligeti's devilish twinkle. Jansons chose the fourth movement finale as an encore - genius - it is a wild orchestral roller-coaster and the orchestra played and conducted with peerless skill and feeling. I would have much preferred to hear this fine orchestra play the complete work than the Berlioz. We need great orchestras to do that!
Prom 38: Cutting to the chase Vasily Petrenko - a musician I admire - did very little with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Too much of it flat-lined for me. One might ask after so many have given so many views on the Ninth - what is there left to say. Klemperer argued 50 years ago that we should stop playing the Beethoven symphonies and give the modernists a chance. With readings like this - I'd agree (though Mena's Beethoven Seven was dreamy). The fugues dragged, the Adagio was slightly distant and the Scherzo punched below it's weight. The soloists in the Beethoven commendable: Finley was sonorous, deliberate and pleasingly declamatory - unlike Nelson's bass here. Spence and Johnston sang well and Tynan sang very well given her short notice recruitment to the ranks (which she announced on Twitter). Huge expanses of the finale were just too dimly lit. The Turkish March and following fugue should shake the house down with their cumulative effects: it didn't happen. The rafters shook in the finale Presto - at least Petrenko wasn't too brisk for the acoustic. The opener, a favourite of mine, Vaughan Williams' Toward the Unknown Region had all it's Tristan-esque beauty sucked from it - that was quite upsetting given the resources at his disposal. The choruses in both pieces were magnificent - bright, loud and precise.
I might have wondered if the National Youth Orchestra's 20 first violins limited the impact of the Beethoven had I not heard Turnage's tremendously accessible new work Frieze. It is indirectly linked to Beethoven's Ninth - I'm not sure that matters. It's a varied, vivid and energetic excursion across a Turnage soundscape which seems to have mellowed a little but picked up a poise and even humour to give a greater effect. There were Turnage "outbursts" ferocious momentum that interrupts our progress with a jolt and grinds away on our disposition for a little while leaving our nerves shot - like an angry hornet. This was perhaps the orchestra's finest hour - I don't imagine this is easy music but they were well up to it. And what a fabulous experience for these young musicians. A free prom too - lovely development, but let's be more adventurous with the meat course next time?