Proms 2014 - Week 2

Things looked up in week 2

Prom 12 - the St John Passion under the direction of Sir Roger Norrington was something of a change to the usual menu.  Fast'ish tempi (justified by SRN because the audiences of the time would not have tolerated anything else - good point!), buoyant rhythms and an ultra-alert team of soloists and strong choir(s).  It wasn't quite the whistle stop tour we might have anticipated nor was it short of some introspective stillness.  But it lingered in the mind for it's immediacy and sincerity.

Prom 14 - in a season where I thought the concerts were uneven, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales first appearance was a prime example of the good side of that - the gems were sometimes hidden. The first half premiere piece was Simon Holt's new Flute Concerto called "Morpheus Wakes" written and performed by Emmnauel Pahud.  To my mind Holt has played the man not the ball - writing to challenge Pahud's formidable technique, but not really keep the listener engrossed.  Or to put it another way - this is one for flute cogniscenti.  The piece is very challenging according to Pahud I will give it another go but I think it will remain off my radar.  The Ravel Waltzes (Valses Nobles et Sentimantales and La Valse) which bookended the Holt concerto were well played.

The treasure in this Prom was the delectable Durufle Requiem with the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the National Youth Choir of Wales - Theirry Fischer led it with simple charm and an acute ear for the choral voices.  He was aided by the majestic pairing of stentorian Gerard Finley and the lustrous Ruby Hughes.  It was not a work I knew but I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the writing. Magnificent work and played very well with feeling and freshness. Every prom should have a reading like this.

Prom 15 fell at the first fence.  Jonathan Dove's Gaia Theory was a serialistic romp through the living Earth ideas of the venerable James Lovelock.  It's a comforting thought that the Earth is working with us and we, occasionally, with it, but it doesn't translate easily into music.  Global environmental exploitation was the subject of John Adams' El Dorado which frankly took a more polarised, good and evil stance and brought it off with some success.  Here the music was more varied and more attractive but really didn't give us anything more than something fuzzy and warm - much as Lovelock's idea gives most people.  The BBC Symphony Orchestra are very good at this sort of thing and brought it off beautifully under Josep Pons.  The Mozart Piano Concerto No 23 K488 with Ingrid Fliter was also a thing of beauty and poise, not least when Fliter had a small lapse and Pons stayed with her until she collected herself.  It was no blight to a lovely singing performance without the ethereal fluff this piece sometimes accrues.  That Prommers and audiences at home were reminded these were real people is no bad thing, that they were shown that they are real pros, who care about each other, was special.  Daphnis et Chloe came and went - it's last twenty minutes are perhaps all were really need to hear. 

Prom 16: A Turkish orchestra the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra came to town with Sascha Goetzel their enthusiastic conductor and Daniel Hope as soloist in Gabriel Prokofiev's Violin Concerto - another world premiere.  the programme was varied from Balakirev to Holst to the Prokofiev (jnr) thence to Mozart, Handel, Respighi.  Throughout all these pieces the orchestra acquitted themselves well and played with something the China Philharmonic lacked - enthusiasm.  Any rough edges were forgivable as the orchestra gave so much.  Their concert ended with a dazzlingling local piece by Ulvi Cemal Erkin called köçekçe which the prommers applauded to the rafters.  I can't say the concerto gave me great pleasure - it was a WWI centenary piece.  Hope was a rather distant soloist: I never know quite how he wishes to be seen as a violinist.  It sounded harsh and brash and unforgiving - much in keeping with it's subject.

Prom 18: this prom by the BBC Philharmonic under Juanjo Mena is covered here.  Mahler Symphony put back in it's box and pulled out better for it.

Prom 19: Back to Strauss and Elgar.  Vassily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the BBC Singers gave use three works of various kinds of intensity by Richard Strauss.  The Festival Prelude - a ridiculous behemoth of brass and organ and huge orchestral bluster - was realised with some glory in the huge Royal Albert Hall acoustic, helped with it's vast organ.  I heard it in Manchester earlier in the year.  I suspect I won't want to hear it again after this 150th year celebration of Strauss for quite a long time. It was followed by the Deutsche Motette sung by the BBC Singers - nothing too revelatory here - wonderfully sung and interested for Straussians I suspect more than the casual listener.

Inger Dam-Jensen sang the Four Last Songs with a darker hue and less athleticism than some but huge understanding of the text and the interplay with the orchestra. It was a fine interpretation though sad to report the last song still remains unheard for me.  The orchestra sounded well enough though too many of the edges were ragged.To test the proposition that the Elgar had gotten more rehearsal time I sampled a bit of the symphony, which I regard as ludicrous as the Strauss Prelude, and sure enough the ensemble was tighter and the playing more refined.  The Proms put a strain on orchestras and they have to deliver: some more than most. Petrenko wanted to do a job on Elgar 2 and he did - for what it's worth, if you are more charitable to Elgar than I am.

Finally in this week....

Prom 20 The BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Martyn Brabbins - a conductor whom I hold in high regard.  Something wasn't quite right in Walton 1 - there wasn't nearly enough tension in the interpretation and some of the transitions seemed to me to be a bit lumpy.  With the sense of flow lost, the accumulation of momentum didn't happen and the first movement (the best in the piece and the absolute core of the symphony) grounded.  It should have a hair-raising sexual tension and it didn't sadly - but not everything can work all the time.  The work finished grandly and with verve but the symphony was emotionally the wrong way up.

Much in the rehearsals for this Prom may have been laid waste by the indisposition of Violinist Anthony Marwood who was to have played the London premiere of Sally Beamish's Violin Concerto (1994).  Instead we had a brilliant reading of Beamish's Accordion Concerto (The Singing) from 2006 with James Crabb as soloist brought in at very short notice.  The work is dazzling and Crabb's virtuosity with his instrument is astonishing.  I was so glad to make it's acquaintance. I'd urge you to listen to this piece, it's full of interest and drama and eminently Scottish in parts.  It was followed by a transfixing encore by Crabb of a piece by Rameau "The conversation of the muses" - what a talent this man has.  The concert started with the War Elergy by Ivor Gurney - I don't have much time for works of this tone - but it was well enough played.


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