Proms 2015 - week 2

Leif Ove Andsnes' Beethoven Journey has had him playing the same six pieces for four years – the five Beethoven piano concerti and the Choral Fantasia. A result is a deep and incredibly nuanced approach to the works which I dare say is at the top of the leaderboard (if such a thing exists) of current interpretations.  I wonder what possessed a pianist of his standing to choose these particular warhorses though? The depth of expression in these pieces is wide but there are much more interesting works to tackle.  Deep insights were evident (sometimes a tad overdone), life changing him for him, but I suspect not much of a journey for us. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra have been with him for most of the journey and whilst their contribution is alert and precise it was also newly minted.  I lost the urge to go back to the score and check after about two movements and really got into it for a while and by the time of the Second concerto I did rather feel as though I was hearing a demonstration rather than feeling the music afresh.  The MCO were a little too heavy-handed in the Stravinsky pieces which broke up the Beethoven celebration.

The Planets bring out the families and the occasional premiers - what they made of the first half I don't know.  Susanna Mälkki worked wonders both in five of Boulez' Notation, and then Francesconi's new violin concerto "Duende - The Dark Notes" with the always questing Leila Josefowicz as soloist. These works are challenging in different ways.Tthe Dark Notes concerto is intense and will take some time (and hopefully repeated performances) to fully take in - but I like it's energy and immediacy.  Mälkki is a very fine conductor and the whole event was presided over with the requisite seriousness. I thought The Planets sounded remarkably grand without being grandiose and probably fresher thanks to the attention in the first half to new musical ways.

The Prokofiev piano concerti were given in one concert by three pianists and one orchestra and sadly one conductor, who's value is dropping each time I hear him.  Maestro Gergiev is well known to us all not least for the persistence in our memory of his pro-Putin anti-gay political stance.  He came with a programme of difficult music and it needed more rehearsal.  Gergiev it is rumoured has a unique schedule which allows him to rehearse with a special kind of economy - I don't buy it.  He remains an audience favourite - unaccountably.  Amongst the pianists Trifonov showed himself to be the firecracker: beyond the normal virtuosity.  Not just for his breathtaking pianism but the way in which he led the orchestra to greater heights of spontaneity.  Throughout his concerti I felt he got more from the orchestra than their conductor.  The Third concerto was blunted by uncertain set of orchestral passages - not helped by the poor mic placement and piano focused sound picture on the radio either.  I also enjoyed Babayan shaking the second concerto by the scruff of the neck. Next time two orchestras and if it must be one conductor - Vassily Petrenko would be a better bet.

Prom 17 with the Halle orchestra and massed choirs under Mark Elder brought us more traditional Proms fare - at least in theory.  The Debussy Prelude l'apres-midi d'un faune was a rather odd starter (I thought) and somewhat less than the translucent sensual playground it can be. Elder is to be praised to the rafters for his inclusion of Sancta Civitas (The Sacred City) by Vaughan Williams - unaccountably this was it's premiere at the Proms.  Massed forces are something Elder deals with very well - he is a great conductor of huge practical skill and charisma. They atmosphere was rapt  - and there was a palpable sense of occasion.  The soloists Iain Paterson with the orchestra and Robin Tritschler at angelic height.  One must be hopeful that the surround sound broadcast (accessible to the few with the right kit) will find it's way onto disc someday. It's a stunning work of breathtaking and measured spirituality - Flos Campi on a grander scale.  Vaughan Williams' Parsifal might be another way of describing both it's scope and orginality.  A necessary addition to the list of RVWs works at the Proms - hope it wins over many listeners.

Regular readers will know I'm not equipped to listen to Elgar so I will leave my admiration and adoration for Elder, the Halle and its many voices resting on one piece.

Katia and Marielle Labeque made one realise just how hard it can be for two pianos playing one concerto in Prom 18.  I've grown up listening to K365 played by Emil Gilels and his daughter in a recording with Karl Bohm at the helm.  I won't be ditching that any day soon. The Labeques didn't seem of one mind.  Their encore - a piece written for them by Philip Glass was well worth hearing and might have been better as the core of that half of the concert. 

It is always worth listening to Bychkov's Shostakovich - he brings out another dimension; he dares to put things in a different context.  In this case he thinks this is not a symphony just about WWII - and he has good grounds looking at the timing of the conception of thereof the movements.  Bychkov says this work is about the Russian people - and I think he purposefully leaves out the words "..the plight of..".  He and Petrenko are striving for greater ambiguity in Shostakovich through very different routes - we should treasure this movement to free the music from it's presumed programme.

I've heard a lot of performances of the 7th Symphony - including the Leningrad Phil under Maris Jansons, and a jaw dropping radio broadcast by the National Youth Orchestra under David Atherton in the 1991 Proms season.  More recently Vassily Petrenko set the bar very high with his recording on Naxos.  It think the voices who described it as banal have now been silenced.  Bychkov added mystery to his reading and the bombast was somehow marginalised. It is fascinating, tragic and humbling.  The BBCSO played it with intense concentration too.  A magnificent reading that has grown on me with repeated auditions.


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