2015 Prom week 7

The Proms Saturday Matinee 4 was devoted to Pierre Boulez and two of his devotees.  Thierry Fischer and the London Sinfonietta gave a brilliant and challenging concert comprising three works by Boulez:
  • Memoriale - inscribed En souvenir de Lawrence Beauregard (4/9/85) an odyssey for flute
  • Domaines - where Michael van de Wiel's clarinet bounces aurally as he walked around the stage - a study in the theatrics of motion and perception
  • Éclat/Multiples - an improvised orchestral work which I found hard to engage with but I'm getting more from each time I listen to it.
In between we had a vivacious piece by Helen Grime called 'A Cold Spring'.  It's memorable, varied and accessible  - I loved the stratospheric horn part in these second movement - it deserves many more performances.. It was premiered  2009 and championed by Oliver Knussen and happily gets it's US premiere next year with the New World Symphony.  Christian Mason didn't prove the best promoter of his new piece in interview. It was a BBC Commission, Open to Infinity: a Grain of Sand, and the performance though good didn't grab me sufficiently.

Prom 58: Safari Oramo - whilst chief conductor of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra - had access to one of the best choirs in the country.  His handling of choral forces has always impressed me, he gets an emphatic response from them in the same way he coaxes orchestras to bite more on the notes.  This brings huge benefits to a sprawling work like Sibelius: Kullervo, Op 7.  Vocal characterisation is key to these vivid tableau linked symphonically and yet so rarely heard this is some of Sibelius' best early music and certainly better than the first two symphonies by a country mile.  His soloists were strong and somewhat emotionally restrained.  His orchestra played out of their skins and I really enjoyed the performance.  It's a bit bizarre that this great work has only had three earlier performances - its Proms premiere was in 1979 under the baton of Rozhdestvensky, followed by Vänskä and Thomas Ades in 1997 and 2002.  Sibelius' tone poem En Saga is a similarly ridiculously underplayed work only given 8 times since the Sibelius Memorial Prom in 1958 and not at all in the 60s and 70s.  Oramo led a magnificent and moving reading - on the edge at times but so much more exciting for it.  A great prom.
MTT and the SFS (Michael Tilson-Thomas and the San Franscisco Symphony) have only come to the Proms three times since 2000 and each time have played pieces which are special to the conductor.  Schumann Piano Concerto with Argerich (which I attended), DSCH 11, Le Sacre and Mahler 7. This time, Prom 60 got Mahler 1 and Prom 61 Eroica..  I won't detain you with an essay on my distain for Mahler 1 though.  Prom 60 began though with two rarities - the Schönberg school wind band piece, Theme and Variations, in its orchestral form Op 43b - an interesting if not compelling piece.  Jeremy Denk gave us the Henry Cowell Piano Concerto - complete with finger defying motoristic passages and cluster chords and a block of wood.  A fascinating and enthralling piece of virtuosity and musical theatre.  Throughout the SFS palkyed well but they're the band they were = probably because - like most American orchestras there come to London in the middle or at the end of a tour of Europe.

Prom 61 started with a MTT special - Decoration Day from Charles Ives' New England Holidays Symphony - it's a very fine piece introducing the timeless and robust sides of Ives music.  It was beautifully realised.  As was Bartok's Second Piano Concerto with Yuja Wang at the keyboard - she'd play date same piece at her Proms debut in 2011.  She is the most astonishing pianist not least in her power and confidence, the Second Concerto is a more pleasing piece of lyrical Bartok against the percussive First concerto - she gave a wonderful reading of it.  Sadly I have encountered MTT"s Eroica before and something about it doesn't quite fit.  It is a bit to suave and sophisticated never breaking down into the elemental forms that the great masters of this symphony have given us.  It is a fine showcase for this orchestra and in this reading I felt MTT striving for more, but it's still not quite fiery enough for me.

Prom 63 started well with Messiaen's early Hymne, lost and then re-composed, was getting it's Proms premiere from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Peter Oundnian.  It has few of the sounds we associate with late Messiaen but it has some as the golden hymn shines through following a sort of prelude.  An interesting piece and a piece that hints at the glories to come but mostly I think it is a devote piece and Messiaen's faith provides it's glorious texture. Igor Levitt was soloist in Mozart's last piano concerto No 27 - a piece which has alluded me in the past.  It feels as though it ought to be a grander thing than it is, but perhaps that is partly an accident of Mozart's death, he probably knew he was putting piano concerti aside - it was a one off for a benefit concert.  There's none of the obscured portent or darkness of the late symphonies in it.  That said it is a very noble work and Levitt's acute sensitivity is well place din Mozart.  There's lots to be enjoyed in its grandeur, as Gilels discovered too, when it is played with an emotional neutrality. The RSNO make a beautiful sound in Bruckner but the reading was a bit too skittish for me - more Jochum than Karajan.

Vladimir Jurowski brought the London Philharmonic to the Proms in a bizarre programme of Beethoven's Fidelio Overture, Schönberg's Piano Concerto with Mitsuki Uchida and Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony.  I'm so under-exposed to the piano concerto it's perhaps not fair to comment but I could find no sense in it being there.  The Beethoven was crude and the Shostakovich left me craving more nuance and better playing.  Jurowski has a large number of ardent followers in the London musical scene - I've yet to hear why.


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