The Imagined Forest [BBC co-commission with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; world premiere]
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Don Juan, Op.20
Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber
Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 5 September, 2021
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
This was a terrific Prom on this gloriously sunny Sunday evening, and it attracted the highest number of Prommers, and overall audience, as I have seen this season. No doubt the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, heard the other year at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding, brought a good portion here. And what is not to like about that? He is a great ambassador for his instrument and music education in schools, and all credit to him for galvanizing and campaigning so as to raise awareness and bring music back from what seems like the brink of extinction in swathes of the maintained sector of our schools.
Grace-Evangeline Mason (b.1994) won the 2013 BBC Proms Inspire Young Composer Competition (for Convergence). The Imagined Forest has parallels with (the much longer) An Alpine Symphony of Richard Strauss in its form, beginning and ending with a quiet expression (here solo trumpet), and taking us on a journey, although the narrative here is “the forest of your own imagination” rather something prescriptive. A compelling account was given to this impressionistic music, and its fine and detailed full orchestration were well served by all.
Domingo Hindoyan – here for his first concert as RLPO’s Chief Conductor, and a product of Venezuela’s El Sistema music education system – began the Dvořák’s Cello Concerto promisingly enough: strong and stately, with heart. And this allowed a similarly committed Kanneh-Mason to announce himself, which then led to a partnership that delved into the heart and soul of the first movement, excepting some fraying around the edges of Kanneh-Mason’s timbre. The middle movement found all rather too appealing in a gentle way, although strong brass tuttis with strings electrified the central section. It was in the pastoral themes that K-M really got to the heart, in quite beguiling fashion, and towards the movement’s close his control of dynamics was marvellously nuanced. A strong opening to the Finale from the RLPO compelled, and so too with the bucolic repartee between soloist and woodwind shortly thereafter – quite thrillingly restrained. Then the calm of another world, looking back, but onward it is. All swept aside by a rumbustious account of the closing bars. And a fabulous encore: Kanneh-Mason’s own version of Burt Bacharach’s ‘I say a little prayer’ based upon Aretha Franklin’s singing. Resonant and finely adept pizzicatos captured her unique voice wondrously.
Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan seemed just the ticket for Hindoyan: he got a great pulsating rhythm at the start, and swaggered through it, musically too, along the way achingly glorious oboe solo, before the race again and which comes to a resigned close, Don Juan accepting his fate and taken by a sword wielded by his lover’s father who is avenging his daughter’s honour. The best came last, Paul Hindemith’s soberingly titled Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. The opening movement swaggered; the second movement given in technicolour for this ever-so dense music; the third’s opening clarinet solo was transcendent, and vaulting flute lines dispatched with aplomb; and the fourth’s whole spread was stirring, strident, and with the terrific string ensemble, the RLPO as-one. A fantastic account of a great work.