Prom 30: National Youth Orchestra of Scotland/Ilan Volkov – Helen Grime’s Snow & Stravinsky’s Firebird – Pavel Kolesnikov plays Tchaikovsky

Helen Grime
Two Eardley Pictures – 2: Snow [BBC commission: world premiere]
Piano Concerto No.2 in G, Op.44
The Firebird

Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)

National Youth Orchestra of Scotland
Ilan Volkov

Reviewed by: Brian Barford

Reviewed: 7 August, 2016
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Pavel Kolesnikov performs Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 2 in G major at the BBC Proms on Sunday 7 AugustPhotograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouHelen Grime was an oboist with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland so it is fitting that this group should give the premiere of Snow, the second part of Grime’s Eardley Pictures. The first had been presented in this season’s Prom 27.

Snow opens with brightly clamorous woodwinds intercut with a simple, plaintive clarinet melody. This is then modified in the style of Scottish folk-music with piccolo and trumpet. A highly ornamented woodwind motif arises before dense string figures are submerged in silence at the close. Whilst there is a sense of atmosphere related to the violent brushstrokes of Joan Eardley’s painting, Grime’s music is never purely illustrative for it is also linear and always lucid. Grime has not ruled out a return to Eardley’s artistry to compose further pieces.

Ilan Volkov conducts the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland at the BBC Proms in Prom 30 on Sunday 7 AugustPhotograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouPavel Kolesnikov thankfully played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.2 in its original version rather than the truncated and emendated Siloti edition. That said, it is an uneven piece and the first movement is overlong; it also serves as the music for a George Balanchine ballet. Kolesnikov made an impressive case for it, full of engagement. He delivered the fistfuls of notes in the lengthy cadenza with panache and also feeling. The central Andante is virtually a ‘triple concerto’, including violin and cello (and which Siloti cuts in half). Leader Ye Ye Xu provided graceful, silvery tone and there was an expressive cello contribution from Oliver J. Clark. Kolesnikov offered ebullience in the boisterous first theme of the Finale and tireless energy in the closing stages. He then played ‘June’ from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons and did so with artistry and sentiment.

Stravinsky’s extravagantly scored Firebird suits youth orchestras. One of the potential pitfalls of the complete work (there are three Suites) is when divorced from a theatrical setting much of the first half can seen uneventful.

Composer Helen Grime on stage with conductor Ilan Volkov and the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland after the world premiere of Two Eardley Pictures – 2: Snow at the BBC PromsPhotograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouIlan Volkov chose generally judicious speeds to allow articulate detail, although the tempo for the ‘Dance of the Princesses’ was too quick. The mysterious opening with strings and glinting brass was suitably sinister and the scenes in the enchanted garden had charm. Any lack of polish was made up for with energy and commitment. There was a doleful bassoon solo for the ‘Lullaby’ and the build-up to the ‘Infernal Dance’ (urgent here) found brass-players placed around the Royal Albert Hall to thrilling effect. Toward the end, the horn solo was delivered with dignity and the closing fanfares were radiant rather than pompous. The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland was totally responsive in this spirited Sunday-afternoon rendition filled with subtlety and shading, and character and energy.

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