Gustav Holst’s inspiration in writing The Planets may have been as much astrology as it was astronomy but it was the (too?) obvious work for the Proms celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first manned mission to land on the Moon. Instead of any scientific meditation Holst offers a series of character-portraits of the planets and their influence on the human psyche. It is a work so familiar that it is easy to forget its importance as a piece of early-twentieth-century music. This was countered in a reading from Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra that tried to blow the dust off a well-known masterpiece.
It wasn’t totally successful. ‘Mars' was surprisingly fast and, although undeniably exciting, was short on monolithic belligerence. In ‘Venus’ Karabits emphasised Holst’s debt to French music with its warm and luscious scoring, but concentration wasn’t helped by a mobile phone sounding in the Arena, and mood-breaking clapping following each movement was rife and irritating. ‘Mercury’ was fleet with scurrying strings and chattering woodwinds, whereas the bounding figures at the beginning of ‘Jupiter’ were well-projected and Karabits avoided excessive nobilmente in the hymn-tune but overall there was a lack of merriment. The opening of ‘Saturn’ had a feeling of stasis appropriate for the Bringer of Old Age and the brilliant scherzo of ‘Uranus’ had a romping wizardry that developed into furious athleticism. The woodwind solos in ‘Neptune’ were superbly played but lacked a sense of strangeness although the final disembodied harmonies blended perfectly with the mystic echo of the voices of the Trinity Boys Choir high in the Gallery (although Holst would have expected women’s voices).
Nemanja Radulović may look and dress like Slash from Guns N’ Roses but he is a fine violinist who makes up for any lack of sumptuous tone with a variety of timbre and spot-on execution. This was evident in his reading of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, which in the wrong hands can seem diffuse or overly sentimental. Radulović’s committed advocacy combined spontaneity and a feeling for line for Barber’s distinctive melodies, original structure and richly expressive writing. He was abetted by Karabits and the BSO. In the first movement, after its tricky opening, Radulović shaped the expansive main theme tenderly, with rubato and intensity. The clapping that followed only served to break the spell and set a ruinous trend. The oboe solo by Edward Kay at the start of the second movement was exquisitely played and led the way into Radulović’s quietly compelling playing, and the dazzling Finale was thrilling, taken at incredible speed. Radulović‘s encore was a traditional Serbian Round Dance of infectious energy played with a nonet of supporting string players.
The evening begun with John Adams’s Short Ride on A Fast Machine in a zippy and propulsive outing notable for piercing brass and a manically insistent woodblock.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms