Symphonic Fantasia in B minor, 1912 (Symphony No.5)
Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op.20
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)
Nelson Goerner (piano)
Royal Albert Hall London
Friday, July 23, 2010
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For many, this was the first highlight of this Proms season – the chance to hear a Parry symphony live – and we weren’t disappointed. Vassily Sinaisky gained his spurs in English music last Proms season with fine performances of E. J. Moeran’s only Symphony and Elgar’s Second. He certainly proved to be the safe pair of hands required for Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s complex Fifth Symphony (its date included in the full title). The four movements–in–one scheme (entitled respectively ‘Stress’, ‘Love’, ‘Play’ and ‘Now’), probably developed from Liszt, proved fascinating. Sinaisky was alert to the cross-references and the many changing moods of the piece, which deserves to take its place beside Elgar’s symphonies. This was a superb performance, elegant and intelligent; with masterly handling the storm-clouds appeared at the end – a premonition of what was to come – Sinaisky ensuring that we all knew the fate of the world.
After this, Scriabin’s youthful Piano Concerto seemed even more remote from us than usual. The piece is basically Chopin with harmonic attitude and far from being a virtuoso vehicle – just imagine what Scriabin could have achieved in the wake of piano sonatas 7 to 9 – it’s a relaxed reverie, but it doesn’t do the composer any favours in the grand musical scheme of things. Pleasant, but without depth, Goerner imbued it with poetic fantasy, revelling in the lyricism and never attempting to inflate the essential lightweight nature of the piece.
After the interval Sinaisky led a truly epic performance of Tchaikovsky's ‘Pathétique’ Symphony. Growing from the depths of the orchestra, the first movement was full of angst and drama, with only the slight respite of the second theme, beautifully placed in Sinaisky’s vision. The lop-sided waltz was as elegant as you could have wished for, and Sinaisky didn’t emphasise the disturbance of the middle section, but he let us know that things were not right. Likewise in the march; it’s a fun affair, to be sure, but underneath there’s instability and nothing is quite as optimistic as it seems to be (and greeted without applause, too). The great slow finale was given a Brucknerian breadth, the huge sweep achieved without the music ever descending into bathos, for it was imbued with a truly tragic atmosphere.