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Russian Unorthodox - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
qatsi
qatsi
Russian Unorthodox
A double write-up, as I went to Prom 8 on Thursday and Prom 9 last night.

A twentieth-century programme for Prom 8, featuring Britten, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. The concert began with Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, a curious commission (ultimately rejected, bizarrely as "Christian" music, though in reality its rejection was surely political) from the Japanese government in 1939 to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the Mikado dynasty. I felt the pace of the piece was a little on the funereal side, though there was plently of feeling from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Thierry Fischer.

Lightening the mood, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 1 is an exuberantly virtuosic student work. The soloist on this occasion was Alexander Toradze, who brought an idiosyncratic performance style to the work. Certainly it was successful in the hall, though I am not sure how much of the visual impression would have made it through to those listening on the wireless.

The second half of the concert was a performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad). I was disapppointed by the 2006 performance of this piece by the Orchestre National de France as they didn't seem to be that interested in the music. This was a very different performance, full of passion and energy. Unfortunately a helicopter flew over the hall at the very start of the "war march" theme, an exceptionally quiet part of the piece; a minute or two later a mobile phone went off; and towards the end of the first movement, a police siren could be heard passing the hall. Perhaps it is to be expected that fate shall present such battles to be fought. Nevertheless, the orchestra maintained its standard and it was a rewarding performance. The conclusion is a very typical Shostakovich anti-triumph - no doubt if it was questioned by the Soviet authorities, they would have been told it represented winning a battle, but with the rest of the war still to be fought.

Prom 9 had been one of the concerts I picked out without being certain that I would go, but I decided it was worth trying out the unknown. Parry's Symphonic Fantasy '1912' was fair but, I have to admit, forgettable; I shall have to try to listen again during the week. It certainly had influences of Brahms and Elgar. Scriabin's Piano Concerto, on the other hand, was well worth going to see. Nelson Goerner was the soloist in this piece which had obvious influences from Chopin, but also hints of Brahms, and also Scriabin's contemporary Rachmaninov. The second half of this concert was a slightly disappointing performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique). There was nothing wrong with Vassily Sinaisky's interpretation as conductor, but there were one or two off-notes from the brass and wind sections of the BBC Philharmonic during the first two movements, and the orchestral balance seemed a bit off - though that might have been down to my being on the rail on this occasion, causing the cello section to dominate. Fortunately the performance improved in the third and fourth movements as the piece led to its tragic conclusion.

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