Friday, 5 August 2011

Press Officer at the Proms

Of the four Proms I have been to this year, each has been equally rewarding in different ways. The first (17th June) marked Juanjo Mena’s debut at the proms where the soon-to-be new chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic bought music from, or inspired by, his native homeland to London. We were treated to the wonderfully evocative Nights in the Garden of Spain (with Steven Osborne, the sensitive pianist), Ravel’s dazzling Rapsodie espagnole and Debussy’s inspired Images, where each movement was, curiously, separated by the other works. The next Prom (26th July) went from Spain to Hungary, with Jurowski leading the London Philharmonic. Beginning with Kodaly’s colorful Dances of Galánta, it went on to a blistering account of Bartók’s First Piano Concerto. Bartók wrote in the score that the percussion be placed surrounding the piano and it was almost disconcerting to see the piano engulfed in a battery of percussion instruments. But Jean-Efflam Bavouzet electrifying performance was more than a match for them, with conductor, orchestra and soloist filling the Albert Hall with electricity and excitement. The second half of the concert comprised Liszt’s epic Faust Symphony. Whilst the opening is magically haunting and evocative, after an hour of it – despite some wonderful moments - one can’t help thinking that Liszt could have done with a decent editor. The third prom (August 1st) brought the BBC Philharmonic again with their principle conductor, Gianandrea Noseda. Beginning with Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony – with its extended and magical introduction – Saint-Saëns Fifth Piano Concerto followed – and received a scintillating performance with Stephen Hough as the soloist. Subtitled, the ‘Egyptian’, its mixture of pseudo exotic elements combined with French charm is irresistible, and the finale bubbled with champagne-like exhilaration. The second half comprised another mammoth Liszt work, this time his Dante Symphony.  The fourth prom (August 2nd) featured Elgar’s Violin Concerto with the soloist, Tasmin Little, who was on inspirational form. Tasmin made a recording of this work with Chandos with Sir Andrew Davis last year (which won a Classic Brit Award) and her understanding of the piece was immediately apparent: the hushed intensity during the reflective passages was almost luminous in its intensity whilst the more dramatic passages were full of all the passion one could wish for in this masterpiece of a work. The second half featured a prom premiere: a work, by turns quirky and rousing music from Percy Grainger, in the form of his Suite ‘In a Nutshell’ and it was amusing to see the orchestra actually reduce in size for a riotous performance of Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel. The BBC Singers performed a superb performance of Elgar’s haunting There is sweet music.

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