Prom 21: 5th August 2001 – Nation’s Favourite

Carmen – Prelude to Act 1
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor
Eugene Onegin – Tatiana’s Letter Scene
Gianni Schicchi – O mio babbino caro
Variations on an Original Theme – Enigma

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (violin)
Elena Prokina (soprano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel

Photograph of Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

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Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 5 August, 2001
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Invite passive listeners, those who iron-to-music and street-whistle, to nominate their ’favourite’ music and you get what you get. This afternoon-concert contained great music – which was great before such surveys. Ah, this selection is also popular. Great and popular isn’t necessarily the same. Berg’s Op.6, a Haydn symphony, Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto, Elliott Carter’s Concerto for Orchestra – the list could be much longer – I bet these weren’t considered. Classic FM – leaflets for which were being handed out after this BBC Prom – has probably avoided Carter; this concert went racy with Fireworks, which is a Paul Daniel favourite it seems. He went to great pains to tell us that it’s one of the most difficult orchestral pieces ever written. This decent enough if rather tight performance could have glittered more. One woman near me didn’t like Fireworks – nearly a hundred years old now, Stravinsky emerging from Rimsky-Korsakov’s tutelage – so, not much hope there then, as Angus Deayton might say.

With his hand-held mike introductions, Daniel gilded the lily. Addressing it seemed an audience of six-year-olds, he suggested if we applaud the soloists generously, we’d get more music. It went according to plan – Salerno-Sonnenberg schmaltzy in a Porgy and Bess number, Prokina very affecting in Rachmaninov.

Salerno-Sonnenberg misjudged the hall’s acoustic in her opening entry – virtually inaudible – and didn’t seem to have developed any rapport with Daniel, or vice versa; it all sounded under-rehearsed. Lyrically spacious, somewhat mannered, Salerno-Sonnenberg was found wanting for variety of timbre as she proceeded through the lovely Bruch concerto, her upper register thin-toned, legato-warmth sacrificed for gutsy attack; the finale was bluntly projected at a speed too fast to reveal the movement’s rhythmic ’snap’. She has stage presence though and plays with feeling and bravura; she also has a taste for British beer it seems – I’d be happy to stand her a pint anytime!

And a glass or two of vodka for Miss Prokina perhaps. She was the star of the show. Slavic intensity, a beautiful-sounding voice, a palpable character-identification and generous phrasing came together for an involving ’Letter Scene’; she then floated the Puccini with genuine artistry.

I had anticipated Daniel using antiphonal violins, certainly for Enigma. I had too of Martyn Brabbins for Prom 14. Both concerts being televised, do split fiddles create televisual problems? One wonders about outside interference in this matter. One also wonders about different colours projected on the back wall – green for Tchaikovsky, mauve for Puccini and a blue-dominated wallpaper pattern for Elgar. Harmless enough, but pointless, and a distraction, so why do it?

Back to the music. Daniel’s sensitive and lucid Enigma – flowing, well balanced, if a tad uninvolved – didn’t touch on the possible darker aspects of the music. It was all a bit comfortable, and lightweight, but Daniel’s discretion also paid dividends and was probably ideal for the occasion.

  • BBC Radio 3 re-broadcast Friday, 10 August, at 2 o’clock

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