Prom 23: BBC Philharmonic – Ben Gernon conducts Peterloo Overture & Swan Lake – Juan Pérez Floristán plays Paganini Rhapsody

Malcolm Arnold
Peterloo Overture, Op.97
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43
Swan Lake, Op.20 [selections]

Juan Pérez Floristán (piano)

BBC Philharmonic
Ben Gernon

Reviewed by: Brian Barford

Reviewed: 5 August, 2019
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Juan Pérez FloristánPhotograph: Antonio del JuncoMalcolm Arnold’s Peterloo Overture was commissioned by the Trades Union Congress in 1968 to commemorate the massacre of protesting workers in Saint Peter’s Field, Manchester in 1819 (an event recently returned to prominence by Mike Leigh’s film). The music has a solemn and powerful hymn-like opening and then encroaching brass and percussion symbolise the brutal suppression of the workers by the military before a muted but uplifting apotheosis. Ben Gernon and the BBC Philharmonic gave the work a sense of shape as well as feeling.

Juan Pérez Floristán took over from the indisposed Alexander Gavrylyuk in Paganini Rhapsody. Floristán won both First Prize and the Audience Award at the Santander Piano Competition 2015, and here gave a considered reading of the Rachmaninov, fresh and occasionally whimsical, although Variation XVIII was unmannered. At times however his playing lacked daemonic edge and could have done with greater projection but the understatement was attractive, and Gernon and the BBC Phil gave attentive support with some notably quiet string playing but more rhythmic spark would not have gone amiss. Floristán’s encore was a fast and fiendish Argentinean Dance by Ginastera.

Selections from Swan Lake followed the interval; close on fifty-five minutes’ worth. Gernon has a sense of the theatrical (a spirited Barber of Seville on the Glyndebourne Tour two years ago stays in the memory). He caught the dark undertones of the Introduction and made the celebrated Waltz vigorous. Dance of the Swans had nicely pointed woodwind detail and Gernon brought variety and animation to the succession of national dances in Act Three. Overall Gernon provided cohesion and emotional substance where he could. There were notable solos from Gjorgi Dimcevski (violin) and Clifford Lantaff (harp) and Jennifer Galloway’s oboe was pleasurable throughout. The brass tired towards the end but rallied for the Wagnerian amplitude of the conclusion.

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