BBC Scottish/Volkov 1

Ravel
Shéhérazade – Ouverture de féerie
Messiaen
Poèmes pour Mi
Beethoven
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Susan Bullock (soprano)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Ilan Volkov


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Ilan Volkov’s lucid musicianship was much in evidence throughout this Prom, yet none of the works quite took wing. The early Ravel, which needs a great deal of help, was a rather verbatim reading that suffered overloud brass, surprisingly thick textures, an unwillingness to expand, and was missing the final, crucial degree of phrasal elucidation.

For all Volkov’s mastery of the notes and the excellence of the BBC Scottish Symphony (theirs is a notable partnership), Volkov’s sometimes hasty conducting of Poèmes pour Mi (Messiaen’s nickname for his first wife, Claire Delbos) restricted a full flowering of charged expression and failed to create an electric-enough atmosphere. Balance between singer and orchestra was well judged, though, and Susan Bullock had the measure of the sensuous and declamatory vocal line. Overall, the magnitude of the music was realised within parameters, and Volkov’s liberation of the tubular bells near the close was gratuitous: more ‘Avon calling’ than intrinsic joyful pealing.

While it was gratifying to hear Beethoven’s Seventh not slavishly metronomic – save the finale was customarily too fast and merely whizzed by (rare are the conductors who spot Beethoven’s tempo marking is less fast than the preceding scherzo) – Volkov’s fussiness with dynamics and accents rather got in the way and abated Beethoven’s flow. Although clarity of texture was admirable (not least in the avoiding of bombast in the Trio’s fortissimos), Volkov’s lightness of touch didn’t always avoid preciousness and some of his finicky touches in the slow introduction were less than unanimously addressed by the orchestra. The observance of all the repeats was, on this occasion, literally repetitive. Standing out, though, was the Allegretto – solemn, measured, a full quotient of vibrato, and dynamics modulating with significance: here was something special.



  • Concert rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 18 August at 2.30 p.m.
  • BBC Proms 2004

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