Proms 2014: Week One

This will be a sparse report - this years proms have started with scarcely a whimper for me.

Prom 1: Elgar: The Kingdom - as regular readers will know may antipathy for Elgar's music has reached pantomime proportions. I listened to a few bars - that was enough.  Twitter seems to have caused @Operacabbie to rush to the defence of the baritone. We all know Twitter is scarcely ever right when it knocks a singer.

Prom 2: The China Philharmonic invited us to a varied programme which sadly included more Elgar and various pot boilers.  I listened as hard as I could to the premier of Qigang Chen's Joie eternelle in which the orchestra were joined by Alison Balsam.  I couldn't find much in it to be honest aside from Balsom's unearringly beautifully judged playing.  My attention was cast on the much hyped orchestra in Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet.  They played well and to the max for their charismatic conductor,  , but sounded rather like they had had sectional rehearsal and this was the first time they were playing with each other and not really picking up what each other were doing.  This became more of a problem in Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition where the reading was flatter and piece less amenable to a flat reading.  The flow was broken the characterisation limited and the orchestra desperately disconnected from itself.  All of which is rather sad of a very capable group of players.

Prom 3 - just for completeness I'll say this blog won't be covering the world. themed or children's proms.

Prom 4: The so called Orchestra for World Peace is a body corporate which has it's backers read out on the radio like those odious backers of football trophies.  It is apparently the pick of Europe's orchestral players - they didn't sound like they listen to each other either.  No matter because so odious are the political views of the conductor Gergiev that I'm not going to give him any more than these few words "Be gone from our shores!"

Prom 5: David Zinman presided over his last concert as chief conductor with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich.  This is a long overdue parting of the ways if their Till Eulenspiegel was anything to go by.  Less the medieval devil incarnate and more a bit of a flat reading of one of Strauss' most boisterous scores.  The TonHalle orchestra are sharp and incisive but the reading was about as straight-laced as could be and at no time did I sense the exhilaration I had from the orchestra's recordings of Strauss with the same conductor.  Given the popularity of Dvorak's Cello Concerto, one might wonder why his Violin concerto has struggled so much?  I think its pale by comparison.  Julia Fischer plays well and I think the orchestra played with more attention, exactitude... ermmm.... precision I guess too. Perhaps this piece got more rehearsal time.  It still didn't excite perhaps more so because i hard so much more of the detail in it...

Zinman's Beethoven cycle on CD with this orchestra was one of the first to use the new Barenreiter scores and had me in raptures at times.  There's certainly a lot in the balance and precision (that word again) which still maintains - I'm still uncertain about the way Zinman drives Beethoven sometimes it can sound breathless as in the Trio.  Dancing at that speed may leave the peasants way in front of any village band! The storm was a bit of a throwback - I think we can now live with more lustre from the horns, more interruptions from the trumpets against the vibrato less strings.  The arguments have been done and dusted - largely in Abbado's set. It was a fine example of Zinman's art on his day of departure - but this wasn't going to move mountains, especially as he treasured the exquisite phrasing at the end of the piece more than it's flow.  An amusing contemporary  Swiss encore followed to the delight of many.

Prom 6: will get it's own full review.

Prom 7: demonstrated the best things about the Proms and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiri Belohlavek . The Tavener premiere "Gnosis" was a poignant one following the death of the composer in November 2013.  It was written for, and dedicated to, Sarah Connolly and she sang with great drama, simplicity and dignity - as befits a work inspired by her own rendition of the Abschied from Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. The byplay between the voice, the deep orchestral rumination and the alto flute played beautifully by Michael Cox, was entrancing.  This is the kind of piece that would flummox some orchestras but the BBCSO just get on with serving the music. And Belohlavek - back with his old orchestra - has such a sympathetic ear for new music you'd have thought they'd been playing it for years. And the coda has to be heard in that context too.

Plaudits too for Isabelle Faust in Bartok's Second Violin Concerto - this was ultra secure playing of very fluid music.  Such a world a way from the Dvorak of two nights earlier.  It was a magnificent example of Faust's art - made possible by the certainty coming from the experience on the podium and around it.  I would urge anyone unfamiliar with the work to listen - its a cracking example of how the right artist can unlock a work.

If I'm less enthusiastic about the Shostakovitch Symphony No 10 that followed its because we hear far too much of it at the Proms.  It's a great symphony but playing it too often will only erode it.  The reading from a man who knew the terrors of Soviet oppression in his own country should be noted - he has a sophisticated view, underplaying some of the highest jinx.

Prom 9: will get no coverage from me.

And a week has gone and we are underway...


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