Saturday, September 12, 2009 | As a finale to one of the best BBC Proms seasons in recent years, this Last Night was probably one of the best, too. ... Malcolm Arnold’s A Grand, Grand Overture opened the second half. Written for the inaugural Hoffnung Music Festival concert in 1956 – Gerard Hoffnung died 50 years ago – the piece utilises three vacuum cleaners, a floor polisher and four rifles alongside a cornucopia of percussion.
Friday, September 11, 2009 | Silk Road Ensemble’s second visit to the Proms with musical director Yo-Yo Ma marked its tenth anniversary, a decade that has seen the Ensemble grow in musical stature, with core values of musical and cultural exploration as a community fully intact. Yo-Yo Ma may be an international soloist, but he retains a touching sense of humility when performing with the Silk Road Ensemble, and this, coupled to an almost boundless sense of discovery, is an invigorating mix.
Thursday, September 10, 2009 | The last time I heard Franz Welser-Möst conducting was with the Cleveland Orchestra, at the BBC Proms in 2005, in a disappointingly polite and disengaged Mahler 3. His appearance this year (replacing Nikolaus Harnoncourt), with the Vienna Philharmonic, emphasised the much-lamented absence of any of the recession-gripped American orchestras from the 2009 Proms at the same time as revealing this scrupulous but sometimes rather remote conductor’s inherent warmth and lyricism.
Friday, September 11, 2009 | The second of the Vienna Philharmonic’s two BBC Proms this season proved to be an absolute highlight. Zubin Mehta (born 1936), now associated with the Vienna Philharmonic for nearly fifty years (and almost as long with the Israel Philharmonic of which he is Music Director for Life), and one of most-complete of conductors, began this particularly attractive programme with an addition to it, Webern’s Passacaglia...
Wednesday, September 09, 2009 | Violin concertos with eye-catching and imagination-stimulating nicknames seem all the rage at the moment. Only the night before BBC Proms had presented Peter Maxwell Davies’s ‘Fiddler on the Shore’ (his Violin Concerto No.2), and now here was ‘Juggler in Paradise’, Augusta Read Thomas’s Violin Concerto No.3, first performed in January this year by Frank Peter Zimmermann. He should have been the soloist for this UK premiere, but his withdrawal passed that honour to Jennifer Koh.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009 | On the day itself, this second, more personal, celebration of Peter Maxwell Davies’s 75th-birthday examined the composer’s close affinity with Orkney, his home for nigh on forty years. It also celebrated his output for chorus, a medium that has been a mainstay of his compositional life since early works for children’s choirs in the 1950s. The composer was in attendance, speaking briefly and humbly about the two works performed, both settings of the poet George Mackay Brown.
Monday, September 07, 2009 | During the performance of Mahler 10, I wondered if I was still listening to the same conductor and orchestra, so great was the contrast in musical involvement and, all too often, quality of execution. The Leipzig violas’ delivery of the symphony’s opening Andante bars was suitably arresting, but the Adagio which followed lacked intensity and impetus, the orchestra’s impressive violins undermined by some unhelpfully imprecise playing from the horns.
Sunday, September 06, 2009 | The ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus found the whole auditorium on its feet, appropriately given that this concert was not only the culmination of the BBC Proms’ Handel celebrations, but also the introductory inspiration to the “Sing Hallelujah” project, which brings together English National Opera and BBC Radio 3 to encourage people to find their voice and discover the joy of singing through Handel’s most famous piece.
Saturday, September 05, 2009 | This Suite from “The Cunning Little Vixen” is an arrangement by Vaclav Tálich of music from Act One and uses his own orchestration rather than Janáček’s more abrasive original. (Charles Mackerras has made a revision of the Suite more in-keeping with Janáček’s original, which should now replace Tálich’s well-meaning, if inauthentic version.) Jac van Steen... ... John McCabe, 70 this year, a vital part of our musical lives for many years, is frequently underrated because he excels in so many disciplines – writer, pianist, teacher, as well as composer. The Horn Concerto, written for David Pyatt, was first heard in 2007 and plays continuously.
Friday, September 04, 2009 | This exquisite late-night BBC Prom was for George Crumb's 80th-birthday, and was delivered with authority by members of the Nash Ensemble, three singers and (in the opening and closing works) conductor Diego Masson. These pieces are nearly 40 years old. ... Finally, "Ancient Voices of Children", composed between the two other works, in 1970, and again setting Lorca texts.
Friday, September 04, 2009 | Anyone who has followed Jonathan Nott’s career will have heard him conduct this music before (in Bamberg, at the Edinburgh Festival, and even in London, where he is too infrequent a visitor). What was so gratifying about this concert was that his interpretations have ripened further, exhibiting an impressive wholeness, and that he and the members of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra displayed a mutual respect and a close rapport.
Thursday, September 03, 2009 | The concert’s highlight was a mesmerising performance of Debussy’s Jeux, Vladimir Jurowski bringing out all the score’s diverse shades of tone, colour and mood... ... Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos simply seemed out of place both in the programme and in the vast Royal Albert Hall, but it enjoyed the commanding and intoxicating playing of Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich...
Wednesday, September 02, 2009 | Twentieth-century works of wildly differing musical languages were here linked together by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and its Principal Guest Conductor, David Robertson, making for an extremely interesting and stimulating evening of music. ... The action began in the Arena, the Royal Albert Hall transformed into a modern-day amphitheatre to meet the demands of Iannis Xenakis.
Friday, August 28, 2009 | Obviously one of the best kept secrets of the whole Proms season, given the smallest audience so far this year in the Royal Albert Hall, the Netherlands Wind Ensemble arrived in Kensington for this late-night celebration of the 70th-birthday of the founder of the Hague School – Louis Andriessen, the centrepiece of which was perhaps his most famous work, De Staat, based on Plato. ... Flanking De Staat were works by two of Andriessen’s pupils. First, Steve Martland (50 this year) and, finally, Andriessen’s compatriot, Cornelis de Bondt.
Monday, August 31, 2009 | Dutch orchestras rarely perform Sibelius’s music; perhaps this is because their conductors’ predilection has been for the Finn’s symphonic antipode, Gustav Mahler. That said George Szell made a famous studio recording of Sibelius’s Second Symphony with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and there exists a recording of a concert performance of the Fifth under Kyril Kondrashin. More recently Colin Davis has kept the Finnish flag flying over the wonderful Concertgebouw building in less-well-known Sibelius pieces. Previous principal conductors of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, such as Mengelberg, Haitink and Chailly, conducted not a note of Sibelius's music! ... Today the Concertgebouw Orchestra is under Latvian-born Mariss Jansons, a conductor of impeccable Sibelian credentials.
Sunday, August 30, 2009 | Charles Dutoit conducted the premiere of Claude Vivier's Orion in 1979. ... Martha Argerich was to have played Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.1 in addition to Ravel's G major, but illness prevented her from preparing it. ... Another Dutoit calling-card ended the Prom: Ravel's ever-fresh and superlative orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Saturday, August 29, 2009 | Tonhalle Orchester Zürich demonstrates all the qualities one expects of its homeland's watches and countryside: accuracy, elegance, and beauty. ... Mahler's Fourth Symphony found the Orchestra, and its Chief Conductor David Zinman, able to sustain an over-arching line throughout the symphony's sixty minutes.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | This was Michael Nyman's first appearance at the BBC Proms and looked at his musical relationships with two of this year's featured composers, Purcell and Haydn, providing an effective stylistic contrast with settings of Paul Celan and 'Memorial' from one of his many film scores.
Friday, August 28, 2009 | This BBC Prom marked the culmination of performing all of Stravinsky’s ballet scores and Tchaikovsky’s complete works for piano and orchestra this season. ... Stephen Hough rounded off his Tchaikovsky survey with the Concert Fantasia.
Thursday, August 27, 2009 | The Dresden State Orchestra has appointed Rebecca Saunders as its composer-in-residence from the 2009-10 season, a surprising move, maybe, given this ensemble’s association with tradition and Saunders’s challenging musical thinking that possibly shares a similar orbit to that of Brian Ferneyhough. ... Fabio Luisi, Staatskapelle Dresden’s chief conductor, and his musicians gave an obviously fine performance of traces (the world premiere of the revision had been the night before in Dresden) and went on to form a close partnership with Lang Lang.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | Whatever the starting-point of Richard Strauss’s Domestic Symphony, a day in the life of the Strauss family, any such programme can be easily forgotten given the sheer quality and brilliance of the music itself, superbly demonstrated by this magnificent performance, itself suggesting that the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and its new Chief Conductor (from 1 September) should be offering us some wonderful music-making in the coming years.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | It is three decades since Sir Roger Norrington first shot to international fame (some would say notoriety) for his pioneering and uncompromising approach to the Baroque and Classical canon. As this BBC Prom with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment proved, age has not diminished his ability to challenge expectations, but, the fire which once burnt so fiercely erupted less frequently. ... Sir Roger provided sumptuous, if understated, accompaniment to Joyce DiDonato's captivating interpretations of arias from two Handel operas...
Monday, August 24, 2009 | The UK premiere of Alfred Schnittke’s student cantata “Nagasaki” (1958) was certainly the attraction of this Prom. “Nagasaki” is a recent discovery for Valery Gergiev (although a recording of it was issued on BIS a couple of years ago, BIS-CD-1647), a “war oratorio” that chimes in nicely with Shostakovich’s Eighth, the last of his so-called “War Symphonies”.
Sunday, August 23, 2009 | Two joyful works in D major flanked a very fine performance of Szymanowski’s “Stabat mater” in this BBC Symphony Orchestra (and Chorus) Prom under Osmo Vänskä. ... After the interval, Joshua Bell’s performance of Brahms’s Violin Concerto was equally thrilling.
Thursday, August 13, 2009 | At the end of his tenure with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov wove a concert quite ordinary at the edges but with a heart of pure gold. ... Written in four movements, Unsuk Chin’s new Cello Concerto, written for Alban Gerhardt, made a big impression.
Saturday, August 22, 2009 | Following two concerts the previous evening, Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra might have welcomed the afternoon off, especially with “Fidelio” looming. Instead, nine members of the orchestra and their maestro gave a particularly illuminating “Proms Plus” event to a capacity audience (and that means quite a lot of people) in the Royal College of Music’s main concert hall. Roger Wright introduced and closed the afternoon, and for the 75 minutes in between Barenboim and the musicians focussed on Pierre Boulez the composer. ... Whether “Fidelio” is a true masterpiece or a flawed one, it communicates directly – about human endeavour and ‘good’ conquering ‘evil’. ... Furthermore, the dropping of dialogue for Edward Said’s narration is an interesting if not an entirely convincing one. Leonore reminisces on events (in English and spoken by Waltraud Meier as pre-recorded interludes).
Friday, August 21, 2009 | The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (named after Goethe’s cycle or diwan of lyric poems modelled on the Persian poet Hafiz) is celebrating its 10th-anniversary since being founded by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said.
Friday, August 21, 2009 | This late-night BBC Prom and second offering of the evening from members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra brought together two contrasting masterpieces, separated by almost exactly a hundred years. ... Alban Berg’s Chamber Concerto (1923-5) fared better. Written as a tribute to his teacher Arnold Schoenberg...
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 | In what must be the busiest late-night BBC Prom in years, the eight players/singers/presenters of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain found themselves before a sea of eager faces in the Arena and a packed auditorium. … Earlier, the "Life on Mars" medley had included David Bowie, a nod to Sinatra ("My Way") and even "Born Free", by John Barry and Don Black, who returned later for the theme from James Bond's "Thunderball". The concert ended with an exuberant rendition of Eric Coates's Dambusters March.
Thursday, August 20, 2009 | The marking of the 250th-anniversary of Handel's death continue, though it was disappointing to see large areas at the back of the Arena vacant. Handel-the-English-oratorio composer was on show. Composed at the same time as "Messiah", "Samson" was then more popular than its contemporary, but has fared less successfully since (save for its popular final number, 'Let the bright Seraphim'). Harry Bicket redressed this successfully in this rapturously acclaimed performance.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009 | Even some of Shostakovich’s greatest admirers seem to have problems with Symphony 11; a curious situation given that it is one of most fascinating works. If there is a qualification about the work’s stature, then it is the simple fact that it needs a performance that is truly extreme, such as in the poles-apart interpretations (as recorded) by Kyril Kondrashin (Moscow Philharmonic) and Mstislav Rostropovich (LSO Live)… Semyon Bychkov has already recorded Shostakovich 11… … Detlev Glanert (born 1960) has composed some impressive pieces; Shoreless River (Fluß ohne Ufer) is another one, a 17-minute work owing to the novel by Hans Henny Jahnn (1894-1959).
Monday, August 17, 2009 | Dutchman Louis Andriessen, seventy this year, was interviewed before the UK premiere of his new work, and revealed an impish sense of humour. The Hague Hacking was played by the Labèque sisters, who gave the world premiere in Los Angeles in January (also with Esa-Pekka Salonen). Both the new piece, and the works expertly played by musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in the "Composer Portrait", showed a mellow Andriessen.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 | Last year Gramophone magazine ranked the Budapest Festival Orchestra as the ninth best (the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra topped the poll, and the top-placed British one was the London Symphony Orchestra, at fourth), a remarkable achievement for this almost-wholly-Hungarian band, given that the BFO was formed as recently as 1983. Iván Fischer – co-founder of the BFO with Zoltán Kocsis – remains as Music Director. ... There followed an exceptional account of Bartók's Second Violin Concerto, a piece dominated by extremes of emotions, and here given intense expression through Leonadis Kavakos's bountiful musicality and his innate understanding of the piece's struggles and contrasts.
Sunday, August 16, 2009 | What has become a regular event of the BBC Proms season, the day-long celebration of a particular musical theme, was taken this year by the "Indian Voices" concerts… … …Shaan took every opportunity to place his concert as part of the BBC Proms season. He is a gifted musician as well as charismatic and welcoming of all. His song-list was lengthy and wide in style. Almost inevitably with the huge success of "Slumdog Millionaire" and the Pussy Cat Dolls' revamp of the music that accompanies the closing credits, "Jai Ho" had to be included.
Saturday, August 15, 2009 | Ilan Volkov’s final BBC Prom as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, a post he has held since 2003, presented a rarity and an old favourite. Stravinsky’s ballet music is being showcased throughout this Proms season; here performed was his penultimate dance score, Orpheus, followed by Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony.
Friday, August 14, 2009 | The world, or at least that part of it that prizes Western art music, has rightly celebrated the 75th-birthday this year of Sir Harrison Birtwistle. This season’s BBC Proms has already given us incisive and authoritative performances by the London Sinfonietta of three early masterpieces. This BBC Symphony Orchestra evening granted us a rare sighting of Birtwistle’s magnum opus to date, the opera “The Mask of Orpheus”, in the form of its extraordinary central Act. ... Better known as a member of Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood wrote Popcorn Superhet Receiver in 2005 for the BBC Concert Orchestra when he was its Associate Composer. The work was subsequently revised and some of it found its way into Greenwood’s superb score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “There Will Be Blood”.
Saturday, August 01, 2009 | Though rain poured for the entire day, inside the Royal Albert Hall Californian sunshine, and that 'feel-good' factor, was omnipresent. This was a concert of some of the music from classic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals covering the immediate post-World-War-Two era to the mid-1950s, 'Over the Rainbow' (from "The Wizard of Oz") was the exception, dating from 1939.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 | The first BBC Prom (a late-night affair) to wholly feature the music of Philip Glass drew a large crowd, as much as three times the size of that present for the Harrison Birtwistle gig a week earlier. This says much for Glass’s mass appeal. ... This was not an issue in the Seventh Symphony, “A Toltec Symphony”, as moving an utterance as he has made. ... Glass himself was present, and fully appreciative of the conductor and the performance. Before the performance of the Violin Concerto he gave a brief interview with Verity Sharp, who introduced Gidon Kremer, who made the first recording of the piece.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 | The pomp and festive brilliance of the four Anthems Handel wrote for the 1727 coronation of George II makes them the ideal basis for a concert marking the 250th-anniversary of the composer’s death. The interesting programme, with Harry Christophers and The Sixteen (a title which now encompasses both choir and orchestra, each of which greatly outnumber sixteen members), was filled out with a couple of instrumental crowd-pleasers and vocal music from the opposite ends of Handel’s career.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 | We all seem to be in need of having our spirits lifted these days. Cue Gilbert and Sullivan. It is a long time since I experienced such joyous entertainment as this Proms performance of “Patience”. ... It is almost impossible to imagine a more perfectly presented performance than this. Life-long G & S enthusiast Sir Charles Mackerras showed as much commitment as he would to an opera by Mozart or Janáček, conjuring superb playing from the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Sunday, August 09, 2009 | This was the first of two Proms devoted to “Multiple Pianos”. A plethora of pianists lined up to deliver varied repertoire over the two events. The irony of the first concert was the opening piece, Fauré’s enchanting Dolly, originally published as a set of piano duets, was heard in the orchestration by Henri Rabaud (1873-1949). ... Katia and Marielle Labèque gave Mozart’s wonderful two-piano concerto... ... After the interval, the premiere of Anna Meredith’s Left Light, with Philip Moore and Simon Crawford-Phillips.
Sunday, August 09, 2009 | First, a rare opportunity to hear George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique (1923-6, revised 1953), heard here in the version for four pianos and orchestra. ... The performance of John Adams’s Grand Pianola Music (1982) was excellent, but the music, as so often with this composer, left much to be desired. ... Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion opened the concert’s second half, Philip Moore and Simon Crawford-Philips in fine form. ... Even better was Stravinsky’s “Les noces”.
Monday, August 10, 2009 | This was a wonderfully entertaining evening of Russian music. The Fairy’s Kiss (1927-8) is an underrated and under-performed ballet score, which Stravinsky composed in homage to his countryman Tchaikovsky. ... A memorable Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto followed the interval. This was a full-blooded affair, Julian Rachlin producing a beautifully expressive tone throughout... ... The big tune of the famous ‘Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia’ (used as the title-music for BBC Television’s “The Onedin Line”) unleashed some wonderfully ripe and passionate playing from the strings.
Saturday, August 08, 2009 | After tackling the two Tchaikovsky piano concertos that are rarely played, Stephen Hough hinted at a slightly different approach to “The most famous piano concerto … ever!” in his performance of the First. ... Vasily Petrenko and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain were fully up to the task, providing delightfully lean and sympathetic support to Hough’s conception. ... Roman Festivals is the least well-known part of Respighi’s ‘Roman Trilogy’, music dismissed in some quarters as “sword and sandals” film music.
Friday, August 07, 2009 | Oliver Knussen's programme for this year's Proms season was a typical mixture of the new and not so familiar. Admittedly the 'new' component featured no first performances (his Cleveland Pictures not yet ready), but Helen Grime's Virga (2007) was among the successes of the London Symphony Orchestra’s “UBS Soundscapes: Pioneers' Scheme” and deserved its high-profile revival.
Thursday, August 06, 2009 | Anyone already familiar with Peter Maxwell Davies’s Roma amor (1998) might have taken a questioning glance at the 37-minute timing given in the Proms prospectus (and again at that duration’s reiteration in the concert programme). In the event Gianandrea Noseda’s conducting of it hovered around the recalled 30 minutes. ... If the London weather was inclement (to say the least, but it probably rains heavily for hours on end in Rome, too), then inside the Royal Albert Hall it was time for vocal fireworks, not that Alaska-born Vivica Genaux seeks attention despite her remarkable precision and immaculate delivery of decoration and rhythmic divisions...
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 | This fourth visit by the BBC Philharmonic to this year’s Proms was the first to feature its Chief Conductor, Gianandrea Noseda. There was no obvious theme linking the three works, although the season’s ongoing cycle of Stravinsky’s ballets accounted for the first, Scènes de ballet. ... Mozart was circa 18 when he composed his Bassoon Concerto. It was given an expressive and unaffected interpretation by Karen Geoghegan, currently a third-year undergraduate at the Royal Academy of Music, but more famously the runner-up in BBC2's "Classical Star".
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 | While 1934 has already been examined by this year's BBC Proms as the year English music lost Delius, Holst and Elgar, it was also a year in which it gained Harrison Birtwistle, and Peter Maxwell Davies. Birtwistle was present to see his early works examined in a 75th-birthday Prom.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 | From Mendelssohn's geniality to something with more spite and anger to open the second half: Heinz Hollinger's 1993 (S)irató, composed in memory of his teacher Sándor Veress, for whom Holliger (and Paul Sacher) had helped to end a near 20-year campaign to get Veress Swiss nationality (eventually coming through in 1992, just two months before Veress's death aged 85).
Monday, August 03, 2009 | For this Prom, Thierry Fischer put the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (of which he has been Principal Conductor for three seasons) through an ambitious three-part programme focused mainly on French music. This included a first outing for the revised version of Sillages (Trails) by the Swiss composer Michael Jarrell... ... Nor was there anything much lacking in a rare revival of the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (1840). At its Proms premiere 26 years ago the work was heard in its later guise featuring strings and chorus, though the original incarnation for massed woodwind, brass and percussion has no less impact and is arguably truer to the work's commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the July Revolution.
Saturday, August 01, 2009 | So, this year the Proms celebrated Darwin's 200th-birthday. Evolution! But the real secret of the day was the presence of Sir David Attenborough, who started at the Beeb some 55 years ago. He had two guest-presenting spots and got a resounding welcome. ... Goldie's Sine tempore (Without Time – or, as the programme had it, Timeless) opened the second half, complete with rhythmic drums to start and vocalise from the London Philharmonic Choir. Commissioned after his starring role on BBC2's "Maestro" last year, when he was just pipped to the top conducting honour by Sue Perkins, Goldie has produced a hugely impressive orchestral and choral work...
Sunday, August 02, 2009 | At first the 15-minute From Trumpet, Ben Foskett’s response to a BBC commission, seemed like a study in colour and timbre, very specific, and thus not helped by someone’s mobile-phone ringing. As this intrusion occurred only a few seconds into the piece, Susanna Mälkki (assuming she could hear the interruption) might have considered stopping and starting again. ... Berlioz’s magnificent setting of the “Te Deum” text was given an equally magnificent outing, a score ideal for the space of the Royal Albert Hall...
Thursday, July 30, 2009 | The Hallé’s programme presented two composers who, as the programme note pointed out, were like chalk and cheese – wild, impulsive Berlioz; thoroughly schooled, restrained romantic Mendelssohn – and Sir Mark Elder’s conducting pointed up the difference very well. ... But that singer was not Susan Graham.
Friday, July 31, 2009 | BBC Proms is exploring Stravinsky’s complete ballet music this season and found an ideal match in Pulcinella and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | Bruckner’s Third Symphony, available in multiple editions, presents the interpreter with a dilemma about which version to use. Traditionally, conductors have chosen to perform one of Bruckner’s revisions, but more recently a number of musicians have seen merit in the longer, original version from 1873, the version used and recorded by Nott.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | J. S. Bach’s motets are not well known, despite being produced during the composer’s highly productive years at the ducal court of Weimar (1708-17) and as Cantor at St Thomas’s in Leipzig (1723-50). ... The Monteverdi Choir was crisp and clear... ... Under John Eliot Gardiner’s controlled direction, the choir exploited the rhythmic vitality and textural contrasts...
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | This season's BBC Proms includes Tchaikovsky's four works for piano and orchestra (three concertos and the Concert Fantasia) – played by Stephen Hough – and Stravinsky's ballet scores, of which The Firebird marked his first venture – in 1910 and almost by accident – into the medium, for the impresario Serge Diaghilev. ... Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto (also set to a ballet, by George Balanchine as Ballet Imperial) used to be performed with stringent cuts by Alexander Siloti.
Monday, July 27, 2009 | This was a cunningly planned programme – rare Martinů and lesser-played Bartók – book-ended by arguably the most famous of all overtures and one of Stravinsky's most popular scores. The evening served to emphasise the BBC Symphony Orchestra's current quality under Jiří Bělohlávek, who is one of the great orchestral trainers. ... It would nice to report that the Overture to “The Bartered Bride” got the evening off to a fizzing start.
Sunday, July 26, 2009 | The weekend’s final concert of music commemorating the triptych of British composers who died in 1934 once again combined the popular with the unfamiliar. The Royal Albert Hall’s high occupancy may have owed much to Elgar’s Enigma Variations, but Holst’s “First Choral Symphony” was no doubt an attraction, a work almost as unusual as The Planets is popular.
Sunday, July 26, 2009 | The opportunity of a “free family prom” attracted many first-timers to a classical music concert; indeed of the two-thirds-full Royal Albert Hall many were children. Producing a suitable concert for such a wide age-group has significant challenges. ... The Rough Guide to the Proms Family Orchestra was inspired by Britten’s ‘Young Person’s Guide…’ and quotes from it. The text by “Bard of Barnsley” Ian McMillan emphasises the ethos behind the enterprise.
Saturday, July 25, 2009 | Elgar's picture-portrait (perhaps an idealised one) of London made for
a bracing opening, with Sir Charles Mackerras leading a vigorous and stimulating
performance. ... There is no problem of neglect, of course, with Holst's “suite for large orchestra”
(so described in the score, not “symphonic suite” as given in the
programme; The Planets is one of the most
popular of all British works of the twentieth – or any – century.
Saturday, July 25, 2009 | It seemed a bit odd to begin this weekend focussing on the year 1934 – in which occurred the deaths of Elgar, Delius and Holst – with a decidedly second-rate opus of Elgar; or, more accurately, his Severn Suite (originally for brass band) as transcribed for organ by Ivor Atkins, a friend of the composer
and organist at Worcester Cathedral between 1897 and 1950. ... David Titterington did his level best to make a case for the piece... ... Peter Dickinson – born in 1934 – might be best described as a musical
Friday, July 24, 2009 | One of the strangest Proms programmes in a long while, this three-part concert attempted to trace musical and cultural connections between East and West and between France and Spain. The half-Japanese, half-German Jun Märkl was the conductor.
Thursday, July 23, 2009 | This memorable Prom, one of several manifesting Roger Wright’s determination to find room for indigenous rarities, was dedicated to the memory of Sir Edward and Lady Downes. It was preceded by a session billed as a discussion about “British music” featuring Rob Cowan, Stephen Johnson and Piers Burton-Page. ... Does Ernest John Moeran’s Symphony in G minor deserve its marginalisation?
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | Celebrating 800 years of any educational establishment would normally offer a reasonable pool of material to draw from. When that establishment is Cambridge University you can be sure that the pool is exceptional. All the composers and named performers have an association with Cambridge – from Ralph Vaughan Williams (Cambridge Alumnus) to Camille Saint-Saëns (Cambridge honorary degree). ... In 1909, Vaughan Williams wrote music for a Cambridge production of Aristophanes’s “The Wasps”; it is hard to believe that the original score was so extensive and contained quotations from Debussy and Lehár.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 | The “Glyndebourne Prom” is always an event, allowing the Sussex Opera Festival to showcase one of its usually new productions in the huge space of the Royal Albert Hall. This year the performance on offer was Jonathan Kent’s production of Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen”.
Monday, July 20, 2009 | Those who stayed on at the Royal Albert Hall for the late-night Prom which followed Bernard Haitink’s monumental Mahler 9 were rewarded with as complementary and enriching a musical experience as could be desired. ... The devotional solemnity, classical grace and uplifting serenity of Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross” suited the occasion perfectly. ... Some of the already-decimated audience did indeed leave at this point, while the concentration of those who remained continued unabated with a mesmerising performance of James MacMillan’s 1994 take on the Seven Last Words.
Monday, July 20, 2009 | A wonderful occasion, one enhanced by no applause between movements and an appreciative silence at the end of the work before a very enthusiastic reception broke out. Bernard Haitink, recently returned to activity after a two-month recuperation following an operation on his back, conducted an illuminating and engrossing account of Mahler’s last completed symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra responding with sensitivity, virtuosity and painstaking attention to inner detail.
Sunday, July 19, 2009 | This is a tale of a warrior-queen with three suitors, written around the voices of Anna Strada and Antonio Bernacchi, and only recently given a fascinating production by English National Opera. “Partenope” is a fairly intimate work despite its bellicose concerns; indeed it has aspects of a chamber opera, so giving it in a concert performance in so vast a space as the Royal Albert Hall presents problems of scale and audibility, not all of which were surmounted. ... Most people in the audience were probably there to hear Andreas Scholl in the role of Arsace.
Saturday, July 18, 2009 | Some 23 years since writing his acclaimed suite for big band, Genesis, Stan Tracey made his Proms debut (a late-night gig) at the age of 82. Stan isn’t as sprightly on his feet as he once was; his entrance (and exit) was slow and careful, but once in front of the piano there was never ever a sign of fatigue – this is a musician still at the top of his game.
Saturday, July 18, 2009 | The libretto of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” has a fascinating story attached to it, one that continues even to this Proms performance. ... Paul McCreesh together with Timothy Roberts has adapted the English version so that it works better as a piece of prose...
Friday, July 17, 2009 | Fireworks, an ode and a hymn of praise were just three of seven pieces chosen to raise the curtain on the 115th BBC Proms season. ... Those available were explored by Stephen Hough, in particular the weighty cadenza at the concerto’s core. ... One piano became two after the first interval, the Labèque sisters performing their signature concerto. ... The colour projected onto the organ console then turned to turquoise for Brahms’s “Alto Rhapsody”, which rather clashed with Alice Coote’s vivid emerald dress.