P & C 6

Prokofiev
Symphony No.1 in D, Op.25 (Classical)
Britten
Les illuminations, Op.18
Elgar/Payne
Pomp and Circumstance March No.6 in G minor [World premiere]
Bach, orch. Andrew Davis
Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV582
Shostakovich
Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings in C, Op.35 [Piano Concerto No.1]

Nicole Cabell (soprano)

Evgeny Kissin (piano) & Sergei Nakariakov (trumpet)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis


Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 2 August, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The BBC Symphony Orchestra was here reunited with one of its previous Chief Conductors (and now Conductor Laureate).

Prokofiev’s ever-popular Classical Symphony was completed in 1917, a productive year in the composer’s career during which he started the opera “The Love for Three Oranges”, continued working on his Third Piano Concerto and completed a number of other compositions including the First Violin Concerto.

The ‘Classical’ is in four movements, the first a sprightly Allegro that is extremely exposed for the strings. The BBCSO fell into many of the traps with some questionable intonation especially in the large leaps played on the violins. The second movement continued in the same vein, yet the Gavotte that is the third movement moved the orchestra up a gear; intonation problems gone. The finale was taken at its Molto vivace face-value by Davis who set off at a frightening speed such that the winds’ turns and double-tonguing left the listener waiting for the musicians to trip over their fingers – which did not happen.

Benjamin Britten’s schoolboy interest with French poetry was a catalyst for the 1939 “Les illuminations”. The nine sections of the piece are settings of poems by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91), the French poet that had died so very young. Britten undoubtedly empathised with the poet, who had a “scandalous and chaotic love affair with Verlaine. Each setting of “Les illuminations” has a different feel – from the opening heraldic fanfare with violins and violas to the ephemeral string harmonics of the third song, ‘Phrase’.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra was a sympathetic accompanist to American soprano Nicole Cabell. She won the 2005 BBC Singer of the World Competition. Some fine ‘on the string’ playing, accurate and rhythmical, led credence to the ‘matter of fact’ verse of the second song ‘Villes’. Cabell’s easy mastery of the off-beat rhythms in ‘Marine’ led effortlessly into the interlude and then the emotional centre-piece, ‘Being Beauteous’, which lacked the intensity it requires – especially so when one considers Britten’s emotional state in writing it as he readied to flee England at the start of the Second World War with his life-long companion Peter Peers.

The energy returned in ‘Parade’ and finally onto ‘Départ’ ending a well-articulated performance by soloist and orchestra alike.

Anthony Payne, a fine composer in his own right, is perhaps best known for his ‘elaboration’ of Elgar’s Third Symphony. Taking on a smaller challenge this time Payne was tasked to complete the Sixth Pomp and Circumstance March, which we know Elgar intended and left three pages of sketches headed ‘P & C 6’. Payne has duly obliged with a piece that appears a pastiche with Sir Edward popping his head above the parapet once in a while. The melodies are angular and the harmony fast moving, and with some problems of balance in the orchestration that makes it sound cluttered.

Andrew Davis showed his skill as orchestrator as well as conductor in his scoring of Bach, who has probably been arranged more times than any other composer in the history of music. Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor was originally for organ, and has been orchestrated previously by others, not least Respighi and Stokowski. Davis’s version attempts to clarify the parts and keep the organ and its ‘stops’ aurally lucid. Instruments are grouped into small clusters of often-unrelated combinations (piano and pizzicato cello for example) creating a very sparse sound leading to more sonorous timbres. Having played it earlier this season at the Barbican, and on a tour of Spain, all with Andrew Davis, the BBCSO was well ‘run in’ with this piece.

It was a capacity audience for this Prom. Evgeny Kissin is the darling of the classical piano world and he appears to know it. He has an incredible technique (so do other pianists) – but the affected and flamboyant manner of his entrance onto the platform really wasn’t necessary. The opening to the concerto found Kissin wallowing in such indulgence that the piece almost ground to a halt. Once the strings came in things settled down with the violins’ thoughtful accompaniment to one of Shostakovich’s more enigmatic themes. Although known as Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto, he did entitle it Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings. So it is a wonder that Sergei Nakariakov took such a reserved position, sitting down and hidden behind the piano. Could this be Kissin dictating: ‘I am the star here, not you’? Apart from being muffled for much of the performance, the trumpet part, where heard, was beautifully executed by Nakariakov; his muted solo in the second movement hinted at the more pensive moments in the playing of Miles Davis – even though the noisy coughs and splutters of the audience made the playing even more difficult to hear as Nakariakov played into the piano stool.

The Allegro con brio finale was taken at a fantastic pace by all assembled with an engaging cadenza and a raging gallop to an exciting conclusion, although Kissin couldn’t escape charges of colourless tone and being too loud (plastic noise-reducing screens separated him and the cellos!). To roaring applause, not entirely earned, Kissin gave a bland encore, the ‘March’ from Prokofiev’s “The Love for Three Oranges”. The audience bayed for more and was not rewarded. Perhaps just as well.

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