Archives: Proms

Soprano Golda Schultz with the BBC SO conducted by Dalia Stasevska on stage at the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday 12 November. Photo by Mark Allan/BBC

Prom 16: The Last Night 2020

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Marriage of Figaro (Overture)
‘Deh vieni, non tardar’
Richard Strauss
Morgen!
Andrea Tarrodi
Solus (BBC commission: world premiere)
Stephen Sondheim
A Little Night Music – Night Waltz – ‘The Glamorous Life’
Jean Sibelius
Impromptu for strings
Ralph Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending
Errollyn Wallen
Jerusalem – Our clouded hills (BBC commission: world premiere)
Henry Wood
Fantasia on British Sea-Songs

  1. The Saucy Arethusa
  2. Tom Bowling
  3. Jack’s the Lad
  4. Sequence of sea songs from around the UK
  5. See, the conqu’ring hero comes
  6. Rule, Britannia!

Edward Elgar
Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 in D major, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (arr. Anne Dudley)
Richard Rodgers
Carousel – ‘You’ll never walk alone’
Hubert Parry
Jerusalem
Arr. Britten
The National Anthem

Golda Schultz (soprano)
Nicola Benedetti (violin)

BBC Singers
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Dalia Stasevska


Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 12 September, 2020
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

With 300 musicians reduced to just 65, a socially distanced audience viewing from the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, and the BBC Singers scattered about the stalls where, in times past, the seats would have been filled paying guests, this was always going to be a very different event. Complaints abounded prior to the last night; at how having a sung version of Jerusalem and Rule, Britannia! was necessary to maintain the fabric of ‘the last night’– what tosh, the fabric of ‘the last night’ was torn apart in March 2020 when the lights went out in theatres and concert halls up and down the country. The BBC capitulated and tonight was the culmination of a truncated season of sixteen live events – some magnificent – at the end of a period that we probably will all wish to forget as soon as possible.

Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska stood upon a podium bedecked in multicoloured ribbons and an ‘L’ plate, no doubt, to draw attention to this being her first time. Though this may be her first visit to the Last Night podium, she is no rookie as a brightly vigorous overture from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro ensued.

Immediately after, Suzanna’s aria from the same opera’s final act was performed by the first of tonight’s two soloists – South African soprano Golda Schultz. A tender, lilting waltz that was sensitively sung and accompanied in equal measure and the first of two consecutive pieces to be sung by Schultz – the second, Strauss’s Morgen! followed.

Written as one of four songs, Opus 27, and a wedding present for his wife Pauline to words by John Henry Mackay, Strauss’s original for violin and piano, here was presented in the composer’s small orchestra arrangement of three-year’s later. The BBCSO’s leader, Igor Yuzefovich played the part for solo violin. As magical as the opening is, there could be nothing that could have prepared us for the emotional yearning of Golda Schultz’s opening stanza – “Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen” (and tomorrow the sun will shine again). It was as if all the sadness and heartache of the recent months of pandemic were compressed into a single phrase of hope.

Continuing the theme, Andrea Tarrodi’s Solus, receiving its world premiere, explicitly comments upon the shadow of COVID-19 and the times in which we currently find ourselves. In a video interview broadcast just before the performance, Tarrodi, from her home in Stockholm, explained how the piece starts with a dark tremolo on the timpani and in the lower strings. A ‘virus’ develops in the flutes and clarinets, growing throughout the orchestra until it takes over building to a climatic forte-fortissimo chord. Here I was reminded of the ‘Dance of the Earth’ at the end of the first part of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – whether this was a deliberate reference by the composer I don’t know, but it is convincing and, in the light of the music’s theme, quite appropriate. As with the Stravinsky, slow oscillating chords follows; here, leading the music “out into wild nature, where we hear the birds sing…”.

Not for the first time at a ‘Last night’ the music of Broadway composer Steven Sondheim, and in particular his 1973 musical “A Little Night Music” was heard. The Night Waltz, that becomes the overture continued without a break into ‘The Glamourous Life’ – possibly the second most well-known song after ‘Send in the Clowns’. Here we saw just how talented and versatile Golda Schultz is – singing with a swagger and an east-coast accent that was spot on. Excellent!

Dalia Stasevska is married to the Finnish musician Lauri Porra who is the great-grandson of Jean Sibelius, so it would have been questionable programming to omit the Finnish composer from this last-night programme. Remarkably receiving its first performance at the Proms, the Impromptu for Strings was, like the Strauss heard earlier, written for violin and piano, but arranged a year later, in 1894, for string orchestra. Gentle pulsating chords in the lower strings formed a bed upon which the muted violins of the BBCSO gave a most tender performance.

Just before the traditional ‘whistle’ where the serious music ends and the fun begins, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, written just before the start of the first world war, continued the mellow tone set by Sibelius immediately before. Nicola Benedetti stepped in at the last minute to take over from Lisa Batiashvili who was unwell. This might have explained the apparent disconnect between soloist and orchestra. Chosen as the nation’s favourite piece of music in Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs poll, The Lark Ascending continues a theme having started life as a piece for piano and violin before being rescored for larger forces – here solo violin and chamber orchestra. With a few timing issues, this performance gave the impression that because the music is such standard repertoire, less rehearsal time was spared than was actually necessary.

After Jerusalem’s first performance, Parry withdrew his support for the commissioning “Fight for Right” organisation, instead wishing it to become the Women Voters’ hymn, and later to become the hymn of the Women’s Institutes where it is sung to this day. Composer Errolyn Wallen has loved this hymn since childhood, in particular in Elgar’s arrangement (self-evident from the second verse) however she has needed to reconceive this piece in smaller terms; “I don’t have a tuba, a bass trombone or a bass drum…but I do have the organ” she says. Ever versatile Golda Schultz sings Parry’s melody and more besides. Whether Errolyn Wallen’s take on Parry’s Jerusalem was supposed to be a replacement is not known, however, there is something immediately appealing in this reimagining of a well-known part of the Proms.

To the beginning of finale and the start of the end of the Proms 2020. The Fantasia on British Sea-Songs (using bass-clarinet rather than euphonium) was quite different. There were no promenaders to goad the conductor in the hornpipe, no horns, whistles and claxons to accompany the Saucy Arethusa and no balloons spiralling to the ceiling in Tom Bowling. We got to hear Henry Wood’s joke at the end of the hornpipe (where he removes bars from the tune to beat the promenaders) but, without the racing, stamping and clapping that usually accompanies the last night performance, the joke falls a bit flat. Leader Yuzefovich and principal flute Daniel Pailthorpe did up the ante in some skilfully ornamented solos, but it wasn’t quite the same.

Keeping to what has become a last-night tradition of including pieces from around the British Isles, we heard a lone piper from Dundee, a folk singer and string group from Tenby and an Irish jig from Belfast. All good things in themselves, and probably in keeping with Sir Henry’s music for the masses.

Rule, Britannia! followed by Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March, the latter started too fast before Stasevska put on the breaks, worked less well than earlier pieces this evening. The BBC singers were stood behind the conductor and sat a distance apart that made timing, especially in the male verse of Rule, Britannia!, difficult. Elgar’s celebratory march, in an arrangement by Anne Dudley for slimmed down forces that made the best of an impossible job, seemed neutered. Perhaps the BBC were right in their original decision to reconceive the last night for the forces that they actually had at their disposal.

Then on to a final message of hope, ‘You’ll never walk alone’ from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. This was a splendid arrangement by Ian Tracey with the BBC singers and Golda Schultz taking centre stage the first time around, then, when repeated, with the addition of the orchestra. I would question the positioning of this piece lest we get ourselves into a spiral of self-pity. The usual Pomp and Circumstance March followed by Jerusalem would, I feel, work better – especially when sung in the original Parry version for chorus and organ as it was here.

And finally, to what has now become a tradition – the National Anthem in an arrangement by Benjamin Britten written for the Leeds Festival in 1961. The arrangement is sublime and a fitting end to any Proms season, as it has been for some years now. There was no Auld Lang Syne at the end; no clasping of hands; no hugging until we meet again; no tak’in a cup o’kindness. This was a subdued ending to an altogether different Proms season. I hope for all our sakes a return to normality in 2021. Until then, stay safe, cover your face and listen to great music.

Nicholas Collon conducts Aurora Orchestra Photo: Chris Christodoulou

Prom 15: Nicholas Collon conducts Aurora Orchestra in Beethoven 7 & Richard Ayres’s No.52

Richard Ayres
No.52 [BBC co-commission: world premiere] 

Beethoven
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Aurora  Orchestra 
Nicholas Collon


Reviewed by: Alexander Hall

Reviewed: 10 September, 2020
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

If Beethoven had been alive in 1963, he might well have nodded approvingly after reading Sydney Carter’s lyrics: “Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.” Those words make an endorsement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, performed once again in a veritable memory feat by the Aurora Orchestra in the largely empty Royal Albert Hall. Using some two-dozen strings, Nicholas Collon’s view of the Seventh was rhythmically taut and energy-charged, with a sense of sinews being stretched in the opening Vivace almost beyond the pain threshold, the trumpets at the close cutting incisively through the textures. Visually too it was easy to get caught up in the display of terpsichorean power, not least in the Finale, as the bodies of the upper strings swayed infectiously on the platform, the timpanist, armed with hard sticks, attacking his instruments with relish.

What stood out especially was the second-movement Allegretto, which Collon turned into a near-cousin of the Eroica’s Funeral March. This was appropriately solemn, mournful and dark-veiled in tone, a gathering dignified and contained in posture and mien but with little well-springs of deeper emotion rising to the surface, the voices of the woodwind offering moments of consolation and succour. 

And if Beethoven had also been alive in 2020, he might have had a very profitable exchange – using sign language, perhaps? – with Richard Ayres about the trials and tribulations of tinnitus. For the latter’s new piece, with the intriguing title of No.52 (merely the number of his latest work), is essentially a personal response to hearing loss. It was preceded by quotations from the Heiligenstadt Testament, addressed by Beethoven to his brothers but never sent on its way, read by Paapa Essiedu to the accompaniment of a crackling old gramophone, handed down as it were through the ages.

Each of these three pieces about Beethoven carries a sub-title. The first, Saying Goodbye, uses the instrument closest to the human voice, the cello, for its opening melodic line. The anguish was palpable, contrasted later with the sweetness of a violin and astringency of a viola. As the movement steers towards its climax, the music is pulled in increasingly different harmonic directions until the ear becomes aware of deliberately distorting sounds – grating, screeching, hissing and buzzing – as the melodic fragments struggle to assert themselves. This is an extraordinarily effective representation of one composer’s reaction to growing hearing loss.

The second movement belies its title of Dreaming. In essence, this is a dialogue between keyboard and orchestra – I was reminded of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto – but with no attempt to pacify. The music is overlaid with sharp intakes of breath, screams, whistles and cat-calls culminating in a witches’ cauldron of cackling, the aggressive brass and razor-like percussion adding to the “Voices in my head” collage.Finally, Hearing Loss, perhaps the least effective and personal. There was the feel of a Mahlerian Ländler to the second section and echoes of Arvo Pärt in the concluding tintinnabulation. Ayres declares himself to be fascinated by the soundworld conjured up by Beethoven. The use of the gramophone to repeat each of the four sections, distorting and warping the material through an obsolete technical medium, is nevertheless a fitting commentary on our perception of outer and inner worlds.

Benjamin Grosvenor piano & Jason Evans trumpet Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Prom 14: Paavo Järvi conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in Ravel & Mozart – Benjamin Grosvenor & Jason Evans play Shostakovich

Ravel
Le tombeau de Couperin

Shostakovich
Concerto in C-minor for Piano, Trumpet and Strings (Piano Concerto No.1), Opus 35

Mozart
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano) & Jason Evans (trumpet)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Paavo Järvi


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 September, 2020
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Replacing Esa-Pekka Salonen, if without changing the programme, Paavo Järvi opened with Le tombeau de Couperin, Ravel’s tribute to friends lost in World War One, expressive music located through a Baroque lens. Six movements for piano (1917) became four in orchestral dress (1919). The Philharmonia Orchestra responded super-sensitively to its unexpected if familiar guest-conductor, Järvi choosing well-judged tempos to keep things bubbling along and on-track without denuding the score’s veiled tears (especially in the ‘Menuet’) and the need for crisp but not robotic articulation; very nimble playing was required during the final ‘Rigaudon’.

Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto (1933) is a miscellany of moods – sardonic, mournful, slapstick comedy… spiced with more than a spoonful of parody while avoiding charges of ‘copy and paste’ – and they need to be brought out. This account spearheaded by Benjamin Grosvenor initially lacked a certain degree of knife-edge incident, which was found more by the Philharmonia’s strings and by Jason Evans (the Orchestra’s principal trumpet – he was fearless and brilliant), yet there was no denying the pianist’s fastidiousness or his shapely phrasing especially during slow(er) music. The Finale, with its humorous diversions and silent-film-music elements, brought some dazzling responses from the by-now fired-up protagonists.

It may be Mozart’s ultimate Symphony but the ‘Jupiter’ (1788) is far from being the composer’s final work (in Köchel’s catalogue it is entry 551 out of 626). From Järvi and the Philharmonia there was a rousing rasp from trumpets and timpani in the first movement, quite driven if flexible in tempo, tutti force contrasted with a lighter touch and some lovely speckled woodwind detailing, to which the slow movement was riposted as a thing of wonder, fluidly poetic and burdened emotionally. Following a Minuet and Trio that lilted along delightfully, the great Finale was somewhat whipped through (if with poise and clarity) losing just a little of its majesty, yet the exuberance was exhilarating … but then came disaster! … having been generous with repeats thus far (including in the Andante) Järvi omitted the Finale’s second half repetition and diminished the Symphony’s scale and his impressive view of it.

BBC National Orchestra of Wales Photo: Jake Bufton

Prom 13 – Ryan Bancroft conducts BBC National Orchestra of Wales – Natalya Romaniw sings Barber’s Knoxville

Martinů
Jazz Suite

John Adams
Chamber Symphony

Gavin Higgins
Rough Voices [BBC commission: world premiere]

Barber
Knoxville: Summer of 1915

Copland
Appalachian Spring – Suite

Natalya Romaniw (soprano)

Members of BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Ryan Bancroft


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 8 September, 2020
Venue: Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff

With this live no-audience Prom Ryan Bancroft opened his account as Principal Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, swinging into action with Bohuslav Martinů’s Jazz Suite (1928), music by a Czech in Paris – neoclassical, edgy, turning on a sixpence stylistically, owing to Milhaud and Stravinsky, and including a lounge-lizard of a second movement and a Finale (fourth) that needs rhythmic precision in spades and a sense of the deadpan: received.

John Adams’s Chamber Symphony (1992) – Schoenberg meets cartoon soundtrack – also requires virtuosity and togetherness: BBCNOW’s fifteen members suggested a bright future for Bancroft and however the Orchestra is utilised during Covid times and (hopefully) beyond it. Chamber Symphony is a clever and diverting score, at its best in the droll/bluesy second movement (‘Aria with Walking Bass’) even if it goes on a bit, whereas the ‘Roadrunner’ conclusion is short and snappy, hectic and speed-scenic, with a violin cadenza, played brilliantly by Lesley Hatfield.

Gavin Higgins’s Rough Voices opens with a dissonant summons that alternates with ethereal reflections, music that grows in aggression and intensity before retreating to something otherworldly – quite engaging if over-repetitive: not the “amazing” that the Radio 3 announcer shared with us (unwisely) before the performance.

No rough voices in Samuel Barber’s Knoxville (1947), not with Natalya Romaniw in town to enunciate James Agee’s prose of balmy summer-evening nostalgia, her sensitivity matched by the players, especially (and invidious to single out) the oboist.

Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1944) – heard here in Suite form if in its original theatre scoring for thirteen musicians (the fourth of four versions of this ballet score) – is also nostalgia-centric if not without a pioneering spirit and a square-dance. This performance didn’t quite hit the spot: just a little too lingering (if understandable given the music’s nature) and lacking impetus in faster passages. As committedly played as it was, one hiatus aside, this music (normally, for me, desert-island material) failed to move and exhilarate – partly due to Copland’s full-orchestra fashioning being infinitely more revealing of such rich potential

Prom_7 September 2020_Credit Mark Allan_6

Prom 12: Kokoroko

London based eight-piece band KOKOROKO bring their ‘horn fuelled’ Afrobeat sound to the Proms, led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey.

Sheila Maurice-Grey (Trumpet)
Tobi Adenaike (Guitar)
Duane Atherley (Bass Guitar)
Ayo Salawu’s (Percussion)


Reviewed by: Elizabeth Jones

Reviewed: 7 September, 2020
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Kokoroko, a London West African jazz-fusion band, made its Proms premiere in splendid isolation performing in the vast solitary cavern that is this year’s RAH bathed in blue lonesome light throughout the set.

Lead musician and trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey in a sharp leather suit thanked the virtual audience, then she introduced Abusey Junction, the hit from the 2019 eponymous album. Guitarist Tobi Adenaike in jacquard blouson gave a masterful performance of this instrumental of midsummer-night pleasures gently accompanied, an exquisite chorus of harmonies.

Duane Atherley, tricked out in paramilitary garb with epaulets, beret and dog-tags swinging from his bass guitar fretboard, plucked open the next song with expert aplomb whilst Ayo Salawu’s drummed to the beat of falling summer rain in accompaniment ending again with delightful vocal harmonies.

Sheila informed us that the previous pieces were from the band’s 2019 EP and now for their new music. She encouraged us to feel free to jump in and let loose in the comfort of our own homes as the dance music was coming! Tobi and Duane played joyful riffs of nostalgic more sociable times, Sheila shimmied barefoot whilst saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi belted out her solo.Age of Ascent truly showcased Yohan’s gift. A smile of celestial ecstasy beamed as he played a prolonged sophisticated solo. Taking her place in the sun Cassie too played a solo. The finale, Carry me Home, in upbeat rapid tempo driven by Onome Edgeworth’s insistent bongos gave Sheila her best performance of the night, the song ending with the female chorus crooning “carry me carry me carry me home”. Kokoroko’s musicianship is matchless.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello) & Isata Kanneh-Mason (piano). Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Prom 10 – Sheku & Isata Kanneh-Mason – Cello Sonatas by Beethoven, Barber & Rachmaninov

Beethoven
Sonata in C for Piano and Cello, Op.102/1

Barber
Sonata in C-minor for Cello and Piano

Bridge
Mélodie

Rachmaninov
Sonata in G-minor for Cello and Piano, Op.19

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello) & Isata Kanneh-Mason (piano)


Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 6 September, 2020
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Recital recorded on August 27; first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on September 6; this review is of the relay on BBC Four, September 11

Chamber music in the cavernous space of an empty Royal Albert Hall may seem to fly in the face of musical sense, but this recital by the Kanneh-Mason duo provided a shrink-wrapped experience of close-ups and compressed dynamics. The pleasure of having such fine musicians in one’s living room was diluted by an overdose of superlatives from presenter Tom Service and guest Joanna MacGregor whose bite-sized commentaries filled out the programme’s ninety minutes.

It’s hard to imagine a cellist-pianist duo more mutually compatible than these siblings each with their distinct musical personality. The programme comprised works dedicated to or written for a friend of each of the four composers.

Relish for Beethoven’s C-major Cello Sonata was evident from the start in a tension-filled account that unfolded with eloquence, passion and spontaneity, a partnership of equals fully responsive to Beethoven’s characterful invention and unpredictable moods. There was no shortage of sweet-toned tenderness or playful exchanges in the second of the two movements, phrasing and intonation impeccable throughout.

If this concentrated work belongs to Beethoven’s ‘late’ period, Samuel Barber’s 1932 Sonata (written when he was twenty-two and shortly after graduating from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia) looks backwards, its drama and lyricism rooted in the nineteenth-century, even quoting from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. This performance did as much to underline Barber’s melancholic strain as his irascibility, the first movement’s ardour was amply explored, and its pugnacious piano writing coaxed no mean response from Isata. The cello’s heart-on-sleeve rhapsodising in the Adagio, with its pre-echoes of ‘Sure on this shining night’, brought nostalgia yet offset by impish vigour and, arguably, gainsays the tired old notion that Barber was an unashamed Romantic. True, there’s a Brahmsian sweep to some of the writing, but the Kanneh-Masons brought the volatile Finale to life, its restless energy communicated with loving care and attention.

Likewise, Frank Bridge’s gem of Edwardiana that is Mélodie (1911) charmed with a detailed reading that illuminated craftsmanship and expressive writing with warmth and affection, each player well-attuned to the piece’s sensibility.

From one composer whose chamber music won him national acclaim early on to one whose sole Cello Sonata (1901) was his final essay in the medium. Rachmaninov’s work makes virtuosic demands on the pianist, met here with light-fingered aplomb. Dreamy introspection led to a controlled Allegro moderato, somewhat lacking in turbulence if not fluent expression, refined rather than rollicking yet played with conviction. Following a thrilling Scherzo and plenty of opulent tone in contrasting passages, a beautifully eloquent Andante won me over. An exuberant Finale pushed away any sense of earlier reserve, explosive and consoling gestures naturally integrated into a reading characterised by superb chemistry and poetic sensitivity.

BBC Scotish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alpesh Chauhan with pianist Stephen Hough. Photo: BBC/Martin Shields

Prom 9 – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at City Halls Glasgow – Alpesh Chauhan & Stephen Hough

Walker
Lyric for Strings

Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat, Op.19

Jay Capperauld
Circadian Refrains (172 Days Until Dawn) [BBC commission: world premiere]

Strauss
Metamorphosen

Stephen Hough (piano)
Members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Alpesh Chauhan


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 5 September, 2020
Venue: City Halls, Glasgow

Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen (for twenty-three solo strings) has done sterling service during lockdown, a gift to reduced, socially-distanced ensembles. Directed on this occasion by Alpesh Chauhan (the BBCSSO’s Associate Conductor, here replacing Thomas Dausgaard, SSO chief baton-wielder), this World War Two-inspired masterpiece, a pallbearer for German culture and which links arms musically with Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’, received a spacious and sensitive outing, lamenting without becoming mawkish – dignity at all times – if a little staid at times, not always as changeable as this music requires.

The concert opened with long-lived George Walker’s Lyric for Strings (1946), a musing piece in the mould of fellow-American Samuel Barber’s decade-earlier Adagio if without quite emulating it and despite a considerate and intense Glasgow performance. Fine artistry also informed the premiere of Jay Capperauld’s Circadian Refrains, which the Scotland-based composer (and saxophonist) says “has been written in direct response to the recent global lockdown implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to articulate the day-to-day experiences of lockdown in a musical setting.” Opening with ghostly knocking and eerie refrains, the ten-minute score (including winds and percussion) becomes restless and anguished, and in a state of emotional flux. It’s an arresting piece.

With Stephen Hough as soloist this Prom’s centrepiece was Beethoven’s B-flat Piano Concerto. Chauhan set a moderate tempo for the opening movement, which Hough seemed at-one with, exploring beyond the nippy sparkle (such a quality being reserved for the Finale, displaying an infectious bounce) with which this opener is more-often-or-not despatched. Such consideration was rewarding, a probing journey leading to Hough’s own likeable and in-keeping cadenza (as recorded on Hyperion as part of his complete LvB Piano Concertos) and coming into its own with a rapt realisation of the Adagio.

For an extra, Hough anticipated Metamorphosen by playing ‘Träumerei’, the fourth piece from Strauss’s Opus 9 StimmungsbilderThe pianist’s delicate touch conveyed the music’s reverie in convivial fashion.

Prom 8: Anoushka Shankar and Jules Buckley: New Explorations

“New Explorations”
In the centenary year of her father Ravi Shankar’s birth and with the aim of presenting ‘ragas and the sitar in a new light’, Anoushka Shankar combines recordings of some of his works both with her own sitar improvisations and with live electronics by composer/producer Gold Panda.

Anoushka Shankar in collaboration with Gold Panda, Manu Delado and the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Jules Buckley.


Reviewed by: Elizabeth Jones

Reviewed: 4 September, 2020
Venue: Royal Albert Hall

A lugubrious tuning of a Sitar melts into Josie d’Arblay in a powder-blue power-suit gushing over the evening’s offering. Anoushka’s father Ravi Shankar who died in 2012 had an immense impact on music collaborating with Yehudi Menuhin, Philip Glass and George Harrison. His music was about to reinterpreted and his voice sampled in Anoushka’s collaboration with Gold Panda, an electro-music entrepreneur.

Mauve light bathed the stage as Ravi’s voice opined ragas are precise melody forms to a cascade of sitar scales and electro microtones. The tempo quickened into a feedback loop falling into a synthetic cascade of beauty whilst the sitar wound its formless classical nostalgia for imagined worlds around the infinite empty cavern of the RAH. Oft the synth click of a drumstick was an intrusion upon the overwhelming opulent soar of the sitar.

Manu Delado Austrian composer and Hang player launched the next collaborative venture with his 2015 piece Wandering Around – an eerie Hang percussive melancholic piece with string accompaniment enlarging into a roving cinematic orientalist desert-scape swaying to Bactrian step. The hall turns blue as a discreet Anoushka enters to the sound of violins. Anoushka’s tranquil face is still throughout as the orchestra weaves its sound with hers creating a chromatic soundscape leading us to unimagined promise without ever quite arriving. Manu joins with the subtle beat of drum brushes then a four-beat percussive gallop.

Red lights the stage as Anoushka pauses to tune her sitar. Once tuned Manu drums a soft shoe shuffle to Anoushka’s jaunty strings with her leading the orchestra mimicked by Manu’s slap and tap tabla-style drumming. Anoushka smiles broadly as she plucks the opening notes of her 2015 hit Land of Gold Manu’s gentle drumming follows and not far behind the Britten Sinfonia fuses Western and Indian exquisitely. This spectacularly successful collaboration was the final performance of the evening. 

Nicola Benedetti & Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Photo - BBC:Chris Christodoulou

Prom 7: Baroque Doubles

Vivaldi
Concerto in D for two violins, RV513

Handel
Concerto Grosso in B-flat, Op 3/2

Vivaldi
Concerto in D-minor for two violins, RV514

Handel
Radamisto – Passacaglia

Vivaldi
Concerto in A-minor for two oboes, RV536

Avison
Concerto Grosso No. 5 in D-minor (after Scarlatti)

Bach
Concerto in D-minor for two violins, BWV1043

Nicola Benedetti, Kati Debretzeni, Rudolfo Richter & Matthew Truscott (violins), Katharina Spreckelsen & Sarah Humphrys (oboes)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Jonathan Cohen (director & harpsichord)


Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 3 September, 2020
Venue: Royal Albert Hall

Following the sad news of the death of her double bass-playing father, Alina Ibragimova withdrew from this concert, necessitating a few changes to the programme and Nicola Benedetti to step in as the principal violinist. It focussed on the particularly Baroque genre of the concerto for multiple solo instruments – a phenomenon rarely taken up by composers in subsequent generations. The climax of the programme featured perhaps the most famous of all such works, Bach’s Concerto for two violins, often known by performers simply as ‘the Bach double’. The fleet-footed pace set by Jonathan Cohen and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the first movement marked this as a bustling, no-nonsense account of the work, letting its musical complexities speak for themselves, and Benedetti and Matthew Truscott in the solo parts to step forwards and perform with a degree more introspection and intensity. Particularly in the otherwise fairly brisk Largo, they held on expressively to the intertwining solo lines without seeming to stand at odds with the general thrust of the music.

It is probably not widely appreciated that, amongst Vivaldi’s many hundreds of concertos, are more than two dozen for a pair of violins. They are generally less contrapuntal than Bach’s example, tending to spotlight the virtuosic flights of the first violinist (surely taken by Vivaldi himself) whilst the second imitates or follows in parallel chains of thirds. Nonetheless – and despite the dismissal his output often receives – these concertos require a certain dash and sparkle in their execution which they received here in the able hands of Benedetti, followed deferentially by Rudolfo Richter in RV513 but more assertively by Kati Debretzeni in RV514. Cohen led the OAE in quite broad and open accounts of both Concertos’ opening movements, revealed an exquisite emotional depth in the slow movements (for which Vivaldi is often not given due credit) with brooding slides between some of the soloists’ notes in RV513, and held back until the finales to launch the vigour and boisterousness more readily associated with this composer’s style.

Despite the plethora of concertos for up to four violins by Vivaldi, he was tireless in also exploring the possibilities offered by the timbres of an array of other instruments, whether alone or in combination. The oboe was one of those, and there are a few examples for two. Katharina Spreckelsen and Sarah Humphrys played the filigree lines of RV536 lithely, etching precise melismas which balanced well over against the OAE’s playing, and paralleling the vivid contrast between soloists and orchestra in the double violin concertos as performed by their colleagues.

In Handel’s Concerto Grosso Opus 3/2, solo instruments are not specified as such from the beginning or set in opposition to the orchestra, but rather emerge periodically during intervening episodes, particularly the two oboes in this instance (a favourite instrument of the composer’s). The contributions of Spreckelsen and Humphrys were delectable and well placed within the overall instrumental ensemble, very much an intrinsic part of it, rather than battling against it, as though chattering away with old friends. In the charming Passacaglia from the composer’s opera Radamisto, the oboes were more sensuously embedded within the buoyant triple-time texture cultivated by the OAE for this dance with its repeated harmonic pattern. 

Newcastle-based Charles Avison intriguingly crafted a series of Concerti Grossi from a selection of the keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. Despite necessarily dampening down the flights of fancy that are idiomatic for a harpsichord and adapting the binary form of those sonatas into more expansive concerto-form movements, Avison’s results are still convincing. The OAE certainly brought out the robust Iberian inspiration of Scarlatti’s underlying music in the outer movements of the Concerto No.5 whilst an urbane and expressive approach instilled more balance and order in the middle two with their brief, discreet solo episodes, making for a satisfying whole.

The open space of the Albert Hall without an audience to muffle the sound proved, perhaps, surprisingly good (at least in the broadcast on radio and television) for this repertoire which could otherwise be swamped by that ambience. Vivaldi’s crisp and sustained writing for solo instruments – which blooms so well in a resonant stone environment like the Pieta church in Venice – particularly benefitted from that the generous acoustic.BBC listeners were invited to choose the encore for this concert, and the Rondo from Purcell’s Abdelazer was the winner. Like Handel’s Passacaglia, this received a firm and sonorous rhythmic grounding, set against which the solo violin’s episode seemed all the more tragic.

Allan Clayton (tenor) Photo: BBC

Prom 6: BBC Philharmonic live from Salford Quays – John Storgårds & Allan Clayton

Haydn
Philemon und Baucis – Overture

Britten
Nocturne, Op.60

Tchaikovsky
Hamlet – Act IV Entr’acte
Serenade for Strings, Op.48

Allan Clayton (tenor)

Members of the BBC Philharmonic

John Storgårds


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 2 September, 2020
Venue: BBC Philharmonic Studio, MediaCityUK, Salford

Omer Meir Wellber should have presided over this live Prom but illness meant that he ceded the podium to John Storgårds: it was one titled BBC Philharmonic conductor for another. A change of programme ensued: out went the premiere of Aziza Sadikova’s Marionettes, and a Haydn Symphony, No.80, also bit the dust, whereas his two-movement Sinfonia to Philemon und Baucis, survived. It’s an arresting introduction to what was 250 years ago an Ovid-inspired Singspiel with puppetry, Sturm und Drang-leaning initially, a tempest then countered by something elegantly expressive.

Tchaikovsky was added to the bill of fare: a snippet from his incidental music for Hamlet (a score, albeit recycled in part, that’s separate from his Hamlet Fantasy-Overture, Opus 67), this particular chosen Entr’acte proving rather lovely if poignant, heavy of heart; followed by the evergreen Serenade for Strings, which, if a bit short of personnel (this was no doubt a socially-distanced ensemble) and a little uncertain at times, made for agreeable listening (it’s one of those pieces), the central movements coming of best, a lilting ‘Valse’ of candyfloss lightness, then a deeply-felt ‘Élégie’ spaciously rendered.

Benjamin Britten’s Nocturne (1958, not to be confused with his Nocturnal written for Julian Bream’s guitar a few years later) was this no-audience, no-interval concert’s centrepiece. It’s a string-based song-cycle with wind instruments, not forgetting harp and timpani, added along the way to personalise Britten’s poets, including Shelley, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Keats and Shakespeare.

Night, sleep and dream in various manifestations dominate the continuous sequence – eerie and hallucinatory, as well as expressive in a haunted/enchanted way – for which the seven obbligato players (they come together for the final section, a Shakespeare Sonnet) were distinguished, each as ‘vocal’ and as descriptive as the texts, while Allan Clayton, without disguising that the original tenor was Peter Pears, was also his own man – in timbre, phrasing, characterisation and word-painting, a calibrated intensity across the whole making for compelling listening. Throughout the evening, the orchestra and conductor displayed a fruitful bond, and I imagine the excellent Radio 3 sound can be credited to Stephen Rinker.

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