This one with Chen Yi (born 1953) introduced a lively personality who retains her Chinese ancestry but seems to perceive it from a Western standpoint. Duo Ye, for piano, ably dispatched by Helen Reid, is a folk-dance Americanised, Chen Yi a tourist in her native country, here with a Gershwin-like shuffle and the brittle virtuosity of early Carter and Sessions. As in a Dream featured the composer as singer, with violin and cello, which sets ancient Chinese poetry. Less effective, the particular delivery demanded of Peking Opera, although authentic, reminded of the speech-song in Schoenbergs Pierrot Lunaire. Similarly in the second movement of the Percussion Concerto, when Evelyn Glennie is required to sing in nationalistic tones, while playing; the effect suggested Ligetis Aventures. Add in Lutosławskis conflict and resolve process from the Third Symphony, which seems to permeate the concertos finale.
Closing the Portrait was Qi, for flute/piccolo, cello, piano and percussion. Apart from overdosing on small dustbin-lid-sounding cymbals to a gratuitous degree, Qi is a very effective 10-minute piece of nature-impressionism, the sketch-like designs integrated into a whole, the sounds compelling and intriguing.
Of Chen Yis Percussion Concerto in the main Prom, well, having Glennies instruments illuminated was immediately irritating. Apart from being unnecessary and distracting, and nothing to do with listening, there are some people averse to crude colours and bright lights. Naff, to borrow an overheard comment. I shut my (becoming sore) eyes. The piece itself has economy on its side. It lasts 20 minutes, and is effective rhythmically and atmospherically and reasonably entertaining. However, percussion concertos can be melodic and expressive musical as Joe Duddell showed earlier in the season.
For this Prom, it was Leonard Slatkin out, Yan Pascal Tortelier in. Tortelier jettisoned Samuel Barbers Medea for Paul Dukass Polyeucte. The Greeks were one down before the concert even started. Dukass extremely self-critical stance left us but a handful of works. Beyond The Sorcerers Apprentice, there is an excellent Symphony, La Péri is a lovely work and the large-scale Piano Sonata is worth exploring. One imagines that Dukas kept faith with Polyeucte, based on the Roman official fated by love and religion, because of its fastidious crafting. It is termed an overture; it is more a symphonic poem, Lisztian in design and owing much to Wagner, especially Tristan. It was good to hear Polyeucte, especially in this fine performance.
If Daphnis complete has a problem, it is the potential longeurs in the first scene. Tortelier kept things moving to advantage the pulse was healthy and satisfied both stage directions and the scores sheer musicality. For all Torteliers graphic conducting style, the aural results were articulate and refined. The big moments werent pushed or over-showy, and a lot of work had been put into balance, smooth blends and expression. Some parts seemed less well worked though, and there were a few errant moments. The full-strength BBC Symphony Chorus looked too many, but sounded fine. Daniel Pailthorpes flute solo was especially beautiful. I wonder if Torteliers seamless, lively and considered rendition might make him a dark horse in the BBCSO Chief Conductor Stakes?
- Radio 3 re-broadcast on Friday 22 August at 2.00 p.m.
- BBC Proms