Best of the Rest Proms 2013 No 5

These are grand viewing surroundings

There was so much to admire on 19 August it would seem odd not to capture it all - in addition to Trischler's Curlew mentioned here there was a canny Eroica from Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Prom 49). In an interview Ticciati said the most profound thing about conducting in the huge acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall - he said the crucial decision (when conducting his relatively small orchestra) was to decide when to go out to the audience and when to get them to come to you. If only more conductors thought like this.  This Eroica had pace and power and a huge feeling for the drama of the work and not once were the forces lacking and more than once I smiled at the sweetness of the phrasing and dialogues.

But that same day had a mountain of icing on the cake.  Ilan Volkov's late night Cage event last year was mouth-watering and mind blowing.  This year's late night, again with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, was spent in the company of 3 living and 1 remembered composers: it was if anything more extraordinary for it's brilliant range.  John White's simple but astonishingly original and effective "Chord Breaking Machine" was written for a school orchestra and demands to be heard because it's fundamentally what much of the music we listen to, and much of the music we turn off, is about.  Gerald Barry's "No Other People" has an very odd genesis and and equally unusual but eloquent musical language.  I'm still haunted by it's imagery.

Then along came Frederic Rzewski to re-invent the classical piano concerto in person and with such aplomb we might have had Mendelssohn in the room.  His trick was to bring that swing and propulsion that Mozart engineered bang up to date and his improvisation seemed new and thrilling (but it is right at the root of the concerto and the cadenza).  I hope Hamelin or another improviser picks up this work.  It's radiant and sparkles.

Speaking of radiance - the final work was a monster in some ways and I know of no hall in the world where the tiny unvarying sound of Morton Feldman's Coptic Light would be so ravenously but politely received.  In the last third, as it brightens and thickens, this work takes on an overwhelming quality so mesmeric have the quadruple pianissimo fluctuations been fro 20 minutes.  It was worthy of a fine performance and it got one - and the Prommers - appreciated it.  No premature clapping here!

Moving on through the last of the August Proms it was about good orchestras and bad programmes and a violinist (though I've already written about two Proms - Nos 63 & 64 here).

The London Symphony Orchestra paid eloquent tribute to the late Sir Colin Davis in a programme of English music (prom 51) that nowhere better got to the core of what this astonishing thing - music -  can reveal than in Tippett's Concert for Double String Orchestra.  Daniel Harding was brilliantly, beautifully at the service of this wonderful piece: alive in some many ways to the spirit and sadness of the 20th Century:  I'm sure many tears were shed in the grand old man's memory at this music which seemed so much about his life too. 

A word to about the memorable Prom 57 which featured the Halle playing of Wagner's most weightless score - they dispatched Parsifal as though they play it every day.  A fine reading from Sir Mark Elder, his singers were good, but his chorus and choirs and orchestra were outstanding. Of the singers Dalayman remains a magnetic Wagnerian and the Kundry of our day.

Bringing your orchestra to the Prom's for your last concert with them seemed a nice thought (Prom 55): no Polish orchestra had performed before at the Proms which is crime, but a more heinous one is that Antoni Wit was making his Proms debut too with the Warsaw Philharmonic.  I have long been bowled over by Wit's conducting on CDs - he is an authoritative advocate of both Lutoslawski and Penderecki and it turns out he's a dab hand at Panufnik too.  A tremendous concert - slightly askew for it's inclusion of Shostakovich Symphony No 6 - well enough done but maybe a tenuous link for modern ears.

How sad too that Nézet-Séguin and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra couldn't come up with a more inspiring evening - a vanilla programme with some distinctly distasteful singing in the Wesendonk Lieder and the usual sighs from me about this conductor's approach, all in a desolate Prom 53.

While there is a certain amount of pantomime agonising from me at the inclusion of Elgar's Enigma Variations in Prom 52 the rest of the programme was variable.  It was my first time witnessing his conducting in the flesh and I'm sure now the BBC Symphony Orchestra are in good hands - though in this Prom at least they didn't look at him much.  His energy gushed through Parem Vir's Cave of Luminous Mind - where though I could hear much of interest, the structure eluded me and it fell a bit flat.  As did Bantock's sentimental Celtic Symphony - twice as long as it needed to be - like wallowing in liquid tweed.  The Elgar was marked by Oramo's enthusiasm too - where he derives it from in this kind of music is a mystery to me. I'm still staggered still that these very average variations are worshipped by audiences: when I said as much on Twitter there was some astonishment as though I'd spoken a heresy but no one can tell me what's so good about them. they're not even especially varied! the Prommers loved them and cl;apped heartily after Nimrod - the BBC removed their interruption in the radio repeat. Result!

In a different class at this concert was a remarkable, intimately dramatic reading of Sibelius' Violin Concerto with Lisa Batiashvili renewing her partnership with Oramo.  They have had a long relationship together with this piece and have recorded it.  It was evident in this reading which torn into the pages wringing out every nuance - it was a revelation to me to hear the first movement played as though it were a symphony.  The music shone bright and Batiashvili provided further evidence that musically she is one of the most mature, thoughtful, self-demanding artists before the public.  It was a sublime musical performance: utterly transfixing.


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