Prom 4: The Colour Purple

Roman Carnival – Overture, Op.9
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
L’ascension – four symphonic meditations
La valse – choreographic poem

Kyung-Wha Chung (violin)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France conducted by Myung-Whun Chung

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The youngest of Paris’s three symphony orchestras – a statistic worth remembering next time London is said to have too many – arrived with its recently installed Music Director for an odd programme that, while French-based, found Messiaen and Ravel as incongruous bedfellows and Berlioz as a popular companion to Bruch’s evergreen concerto.

Sensitivity and dash marked out Berlioz’s overture, one that was sound-conscious and rather uninteresting once Chung had set out his plush and refined parameters. Anyway my attention was taken up by the headphone-adorned young lady in the Arena who seemed to be chatting into her microphone during the music – much to the annoyance of a couple of Prommers – and avidly reading her yellow pieces of paper. Couldn’t work that one out. Meanwhile, the Berlioz came and went.

The Bruch played to an awful shade of purple decorating the organ loft. At least there were no moving images otherwise yours truly would have been in search of a plug to remove from the socket. My view was adjusted to not see this unnecessary and rather ridiculous adornment. Difficult though to miss the camera tracking across the front of the Arena. Kyung-Wha Chung played with raw commitment, her brother provided a sumptuous accompaniment, and both miscalculated the rhetoric of the piece by being over-histrionic; the arrival of the beautiful ’Adagio’ was sign-posted and a meal made of the tenuto before the soloist enters. It was a real adagio though and very convincing when taken this slowly.

“The organ’s got the mange,” said my neighbour when blue appeared for Messiaen. A bit unkind I thought, but worth noting. I had the choice of watching the stage or checking out the TV pictures from the camera now positioned in front of me. Chung has a real empathy with Messiaen’s music, although this still means that the first and last movements should finish earlier than they actually do. The middle ones went well, a mix of Wagnerian chromaticism and corny cadences attacked with gusto; couldn’t help feeling that the brass was too loud in the opening ’Majesty of Christ…’ section.

La valse – grateful for the programme’s translation: ’The Waltz’! – disappointed. Too rich, too like a Viennese waltz throughout when the range is nineteenth-century imperialism to twentieth-century destruction, Chung missing the music’s darkness and decay with no sense of hysteria at the end; any recognition that this masterpiece is about carnage (for Ravel a metaphor of the First War) was entirely missing. As throughout the concert the playing was good if not always in sync, Chung presenting the music rather than delving into it.

Carmen’s Act 1 Prelude followed, a bit rowdy, and much enjoyed by the lady in front of me who gave her seat a good bashing. I think the RAH’s maintenance department might need to effect a replacement!

  • Concert re-broadcast on BBC Radio 3 this Thursday, 25 July, at 2 o’clock

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