Sunday 14 August 2011

Proms week 4: Russians, Reich and Spaghetti Westerns

The Proms aren't just the London shop window for international orchestras; they're also just about the only chance for Britain's 'provincial' orchestras to display their wares in the capital.  Each visits annually; we've had the CBSO and Halle, and Prom 35 (BSO/Karabits/Tynan - Liszt/Gliere/Rachmaninov - 10th August) was the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's opportunity to show London the fruits of it's continuing relationship with Ukranian chief conductor Kirill Karabits. 

Karabits is a man with pet interests and most take in the music of Russia and Eastern Europe.  Shchedrin's music has featured prominently in the concert programmes and recent discography of the orchestra, and here it appeared that Karabits intended to dust off another infrequently heard Soviet era bit player.  Reinhold Gliere's name doesn't pass over many people lips too frequently, though Russian music fans (though Gliere was in fact Ukrainian) might have heard the Concerto for Coloratura Soprano given in the first half of this Prom.  I'm not as sceptical as Colin Anderson at Classicalsource, finding the work a pleasant if sugary diversion channelling Rachmaninov's Vocalise and some more fruity Italianate arias, but without the programme (which at £3.50 I'm refusing to buy) I never twigged that this sub-Tchaikovsky slice of lyrical kitsch could have been composed as late as 1943.  Special mention, though, goes to singer Ailish Tynan whose beautiful voice made the best possible case for what at best remains a curiosity.

I've made my thoughts on Liszt known before (though there are exceptions), and his symphonic poem Mazeppa didn't change my mind, sounding to me like a second rate Flying Dutchman.  Rachmaninov's Second Symphony is also a blind spot for me, amazing as that seems to be to anyone I admit it to.  I've always found it an over long work which fulfils the apparent cliches about his music that are avoided in many of his greatest works.  I was, though, swept along by the BSO's performance.  Karabits's direction was mostly swift and straight forward (aside from a fatally mannered delivery of the scherzo's second theme), though, as much as I enjoyed it, I remain unconvinced that the last movement is a strong enough answer to the undoubted weight and attraction of the first.

Steve Reich is 75 this year, though you'd not put him beyond 60 in his trademark baseball cap.  Prom 36 (Reich/Ensemble Modern - 10th August) celebrated his birthday (a little early) with three classic scores, two of which come from the very beginning of his classic minimalist phase.  Clapping Music is as simple as a duet can be, but must be fiendish.  The clapping parts phase out of synch until they reconnect at the end.  Standing but five metres from the great man as he clapped his way through it will stay with me, even if the hard walls of the Albert Hall worked against the amplification. 

Electric Counterpoint, of which I'm very fond, followed; but the centre piece was Reich's hour long statement of music as a gradual process: Music for 18 Musicians.  On paper it sounds like a recipe for tedium, but the unchanging pulse gets inside the audience over the course of the hour and the effect is strangely uplifting and collective in scope.  My feet fought against it, though, after standing through the Bournemouth Prom and ultimately I think Reich refined the process and acheived similar results in some of his later, shorter scores.

That was my last stand in the hall of the week, though I luckily got a seat to review Prom 39 (Spaghetti Western Orchestra) late on Friday and you can read my thoughts at Classicalsource.  For reviews of all the Proms I haven't mentioned, head to the Classicalsource main page.

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