Prom 70: September 11 – A Year On

Composer Portrait – Julian Anderson

Sea Drift *
Poetry Nearing Silence

Julian Anderson in conversation with Andrew McGregor

Marie Vassiliou (soprano) *
Contemporary Consort of the Royal College of Music
Tim Murray

Lecture Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Imagin’d Corners [London premiere]
Violin Concerto No.1 in D, Op.19
Symphony No.5

Elisabeth Batiashvili (violin)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 11 September, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

A prom for September 11 might have seemed like a poisoned chalice, but Sakari Oramo and the CBSO grasped the nettle with this programme of bold contrasts.

With a title drawn from John Donne, and its complex but always audible combination of just and equal tuning, Imagin’d Corners, Julian Anderson’s first commission as Composer-in-Association with the CBSO, made a brief but scintillating impact at the Symphony Hall premiere earlier this year. Its overall effect this evening was appreciably, and understandably, different. Certainly the opening section, with its four offstage horns, made an evocative impact given the spatial possibilities of the Albert Hall. By the same token, the central section, in which the concertante players move to the centre of the platform, lacked rhythmic and harmonic clarity – but the virtuosic final section, with horns and orchestra in vibrant accord, more than left its mark.

Clearly a work whose musical physiognomy changes according to acoustic, which will make future performances all the more interesting. Moreover, its richly translucent soundworld, following on from the coolly remote take on Whitman’s Sea Drift and the pithy but affecting sequence of vignettes comprising Poetry Nearing Silence which both featured in the Composer Portrait earlier, demonstrated the variety and depth of Anderson’s music to a telling degree.

No acoustic, however, could have made Elisabeth Batiashvili’s account of Prokofiev’s concerto sound other than exquisitely attuned. The soloist’s lyrical opening melody was delicately floated, emotions throughout the first movement subtly held in check so that the transformation of themes in the ’Finale’ felt the more fulfilled – and fulfilling – in consequence. Batiashvili was equally alive to the opportunities for display, the ’Scherzo’ flying by in scintillating fashion. Wonderfully refined playing too from the CBSO, with Oramo astutely bringing out the unusual degree of thematic interest in the tuba writing. A performance to treasure.

So might Oramo’s account of Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony before too long – an absorbing performance, the vital structural connections across sections and between movements generally well judged, which never quite attained incandescence. Tension in the first movement’s opening ’Tempo giusto’ was a mite inflexible, and the flowing emotion of the following ’Adagio’ could have arrived more inevitably at the prolonged climax – whose anarchic side drum cadenza was, as so often, a little too well behaved. The second movement, opening at a relatively moderate tempo, surged impressively into a visceral ’Presto’, then built powerfully to the return of the main theme and an almost faultlessly paced run into the defiant closing bars. As with his often-impressive Fourth Symphony, Oramo’s Nielsen is still in the process of becoming – but the process is an engrossing and rewarding one even so.

And as a commemoration of the tragic events just a year ago – Ives’s The Unanswered Question, sounding suitably ethereal and not at all remote, though it was a pity that an often restive audience could not have taken on board its implications more fully.

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