Thursday 4 August 2011

Proms week 3: Part 1

Only a week away and yet so much Proms water is under the bridge.  I returned from six nights abroad on Saturday and was persuaded to go to Prom 21 (CBSO/Nelsons/Midori - Strauss/Walton/Prokofiev - July 30th).  Conductor Andris Nelsons is only 33 and is already the talk of the town.  He has a particular love of Richard Strauss's music and his Don Juan showed his supple control of its shifts of tone and texture.  At the other end of the programme was something of a Nelsons party piece: The Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss's opera Salome, an odd choice of dessert to plonk after Prokofiev's Alexander NevskyNevsky was bold and clear with smaller than usual choral forces making the vocal textures lighter than they can be, though I'd have liked a bit more terror in the famous Battle on the Ice.  Before that, Midori proved unpersuasive in Walton's little heard Violin Concerto; her performance might have been more appreciated in a smaller venue but didn't make the case for what seemed like an episodic work.

I caught the next few on the radio.  Prom 22 (BBC Phil/Noseda - Rachmaninov - July 31st), the latest in the 'choral Sunday' series, was a treat for Russian music nerds.  Rarely heard bits of Rachmaninov included his cantata Spring, composed around the time of his Second Piano Concerto; some short choral pieces and a pair of dance from his student opera Aleko.  All very nice, if not quite top draw Rach, though his own favourite amoung his works, The Bells, concluded the concert and made a better impression on me than previous hearings.  I couldn't take soprano Svetla Vassileva's warbling in Vocalise, though.

Prom 23 (BBC Phil/Noseda/Hough - Beethoven/Saint-Saens/Liszt - August 1st) took me back to my student days, when I heard Stephen Hough's magical performance of Saint-Saens's Fifth Piano Concerto (The Egyptian) with the LPO at the Festival Hall.  I'd never heard it before and was bowled over by its wit and stylistic sleight of hand.  Hough did it all again at the Proms on Monday, remarkably enough giving the work its first Proms outing since 1918.  It's still dazzling and great fun, though Hough took some of the charm from the finale by driving on too fast.  Liszt's Dante Symphony (another concert hall rarity) didn't completely hold my attention, so too swift a dismisal would be unfair - Liszt does still strike me, though, as a composer more remarkable for his inovations than for the general quality of his music.

The links above will take you to the Proms listings, from which UK readers can listen to the concert for a limited time only.  Prom 21 was broadcast live on BBC TV.

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