Proms 2014 - Prom 26 Berio and Shostokovich: EUYO/Petrenko

Prom 26

Berio:  Sinfonia (33 mins)

Shostakovich:  Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op 43 (64 mins)

London Voices
European Union Youth Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

To be honest I was in two minds about going to see this concert.  Much as I wanted to hear the Berio in the flesh, my frequent unrequited encounters with Shostakovich Symphony No 4 put it into teh too difficult category and the concert into the maybe not worth it.  David in the gallery urged me to reconsider and so I did some hasty swatting on DSCH 4 on the train that morning - still not quite in it step with it.

Luciano Berio's Sinfonia had been given on four previous occassions at the Proms the first in 1969 with Berio at the helm and the Swingle Singers on vocals (as they say). Colin Davis conducted the rest of the prom in classical and neo classical vein. The last outing was under Pappano coupled with of all things the Rossini Stabat Mater in 2007.  It is a tremendous work of span and density and detail and colour.  The young men in the Gallery were dubious as I made the case for it.  I'm a very big fan of Berio and somewhat saddened that I came to it so late.  It is truly kaleidoscopic: and at times has an extraordinary beauty, I'd urge everyone to listen to the third movement of Sinfonia since there are so many references to the familiar to spot (Mahler 2, Rite of Spring, Ravel, Debussy, Strauss....) so it's a greta starting point.

Petrenko was standing in for an indisposed Semyon Bychkov and though well known for his Shostokovich interpretations and recordings he said he had to learn Sinfonia in a matter of days.  It didn't show - the sweep and simplicity of his conducting was a masterclass in the work itself.  The London Voices, arranged on chairs around the conductor, were amplified but still struggled against this huge orchestra.  But the effects was perhaps more telling because of that multi-layering.

A tremendous performance from this boundless energetic youth orchestra (maximum age 25) - as usual undaunted by the big scores they are expected to play.

In the second half my first exposure to a live Shostakovich 4 was somewhat overwhelming.  Again Petrenko helped with now civilising of the composer's more caricatured moments.  The first movement starts softly but soon brews up into an orchestral climax of some fire.  This orchestra allowed Petrenko to push the quixotic character and energy of this piece to the limit, he made use of his players and the hall. It is scored for a huge orchestra and Petrenko had the benefit of a concomitantly large string section too so 12 each of basses and celli gave the strings a power to set off against the battery of percussion and brass (9 horns included).  But the work is I think as intimate as it is grandiose and in those intimate moments where the woodwind are called to characterise the composer's hidden and not so hidden thoughts on the world he found himself in.  The young players brought much more life to these moments than I had heard on recordings. Again the size of the hall played it's part - larger than life caricature requires a larger stage.

The execution was not without fault but any lapses or raggedness was for me over-ridden with the enthusiasm and glorious playing this young orchestra.  I'm even willing to suspend my displeasure at Petrenko's condescending remarks about women conductors.  He is quite a piece of work on the podium - exuding confidence, charm, humour and not a little charisma.  His work with youth orchestras seems to get a lot out of them in even the riskiest works.

As Proms go this was a corker for me - Petrenko allowed the explosive might of both works to fill the hall and dwelt with great support for those drawing instrumental pictures of Shostakovich's heroes and villains.  As the last movement of symphony lands after it's greatest most obstreperous eruption, Petrenko brought the young players down into the restless ending I was impressed with his control.  I was more impressed with their response.  And most impressed of all to hear these two great works in this big hall - this is what the Proms is all about.


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