Sunday, 7 August 2011

Proms week 3: Part 2

We're doing very well for violin concertos at this year's Proms, though as (bad) luck would have it, I'll be missing many of the best at the other end of the series.  Prom 24 (BBCSO/Davis/Little - Elgar/Grainger/Strauss - August 2nd) gave us one of the very best:  The Elgar.  Tasmin Little has recently recorded it for Chandos, though hers appears shortly after acclaimed versions from James Ehnes and Nikolaj Znaider.  I've not heard her disc, so I'm not sure how it compares with this concert performance, but here it seemed that Little's interpretation was more successful at some moments than others.  The slow movement was particularly impassioned in her hands and the dream-like accompanied cadenza at the heart of the finale appropriately wistful, but in casting so much of the great first movement as a sombre elegy Little gave it a rather one dimensional reading.  Even on the radio (and later TV broadcast), Little's rich, almost viola-like tone was attractive and distinctive, but I couldn't help but think of any number of violinists who could have given the work a more secure and incisive performance.

One of the delights of a concert (and even more so a Prom), is that, unless you're one of those people who makes for the exit at half time, there's a good chance of hearing something totally unexpected and utterly wonderful.  Those moments are some of my most treasured concert memories - John Adams's Harmonielehre conducted by the composer; Saint-Saens Fifth Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough; a revelatory Brahms 1st Symphony with Mariss Jansons and the Concertgebouw when I didn't think I liked the piece.  I'm adding Percy Grainger's suite In a Nutshell to that list, which opened out in it's third movement, Pastorale, into an awe inspiring landscape with twinkling pianos and percussion redolent of Charles Ives at his zaniest.  UK readers should watch it on iplayer where it's available for a few more days.

My last Prom before the weekend was Wednesday's Prom 26 (BBC Scottish/Runnicles/Harrell - Debussy/Dutilleux/Ravel - August 3rd).  Runnicles has done great things with the BBC Scottish, though he's had a fine tradition from previous maestros Osmo Vanska and Ilan Volkov to build on.  His Daphnis et Chloe was terrific, resisting luxuriating in the fine details in favour of pace and balance; the playing and singing were also excellent and I really think we're in a golden age of the BBC orchestras (something politicians would be wise to realise before hacking away at the BBC any more).  A low key Prelude a l'apres midi d'un faune began the concert, though the flute solo at its outset was ruined by dreadful clattering from the boxes.  The level of coughing throughout the Prom was also infuriating; this seems to be particularly (though not exclusively) a Proms problem that isn't getting any better.

The string interest came with Lynn Harrell's traversal of Dutilleux's nocturnal cello concerto Tout un monde lointain... .  Harrell is a fan of the work and it showed is his flowing and transfixed performance.  His face was often a picture of wonderment, mouthing along to the rhythms of the orchestral tuttis and in an encore of music from Bach's Third Cello Suite, he beamed at the prommers, as though enjoying our enjoyment of what he was doing.

Life in general got in the way of the most recent few Proms, though I'd point you in the direction of the always interesting Richard Whitehouse at Classicalsource for Runnicles's second Prom and David Allen for coverage of the Second Coming of Dudamel and the Bolivars, and for yesterday's NYO Prom.

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