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The People's Democratic Republic of Kensington - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
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The People's Democratic Republic of Kensington
For the first time this season I had to take shelter under the canopy around the Royal Albert Hall, as heavy showers rolled in throughout the afternoon. Unsurprisingly, the pre-Prom talk was popular - Tom Service chaired an interesting and frequently humourous discussion with Marina Frolova-Walker and Gerard McBurney on the work for the second half of the concert, McBurney's orchestration of the prologue to Shostakovich's Orango. How did the performers, who had no experience of the Soviet era, relate to the work? "Well, they relate it to Russia today". It seemed clear the performance would play up to stereotypes. As we entered the Royal Albert Hall, stewards were handing out Red Flags which "we would be instructed to wave at times".

But the first half of the concert was a more serious affair. The Philharmonia Orchestra, and Philharmonia Voices, conducted by the unreasonably youthful-looking Essa-Pekka Salonen, beginning with Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin. The notes suggested the ballet score could be compared to The Rite of Spring; I didn't notice such pronounced irregularity in the rhythms, but the storyline to the ballet - concerning a captive prostitute who is used by robbers - certainly shared links to the baser and more primordial side of human nature. The work was unsurprisingly banned in 1920s Germany; perhaps a little more surprising is that it was banned by Konrad Adenauer before the Nazis.

Next, to happier matters, as pianist David Fray joined the orchestra for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491. For Mozart this is quite a dark work, leaning towards Sturm und Drang, though I prefer Beethoven's C minor concerto with which it shares a somewhat similar opening theme.

After the interval, the orchestra re-emerged with red sashes. The choir, and Salonen, were dressed in red T-shirts with pictures variously of Lenin and Stalin. A picture of the Palace of the Soviets had been hung in front of the organ to complete the air of Communist Kitsch. Orango was an operatic project originally devised for the fifteenth anniversary of the revolution, in 1932, but it was abandoned, probably at least in part due to the changing political climate in which its satirical take on Soviet architecture, Soviet science, and ... well, you get the idea, though in the talk the panel also noted ongoing changes in relations at the time particularly with France. Orango is an ape-human hybrid, the marvel of the age. Foreign visitors have descended on Moscow to admire the process of the revolution, and a spectacular show awaits them. We, the proletariat, dutifully waved our flags as directed. Musically, as McBurney observed, many of the numbers and the overture in particular share a lot in common with another of Shostakovich's more or less contemporary works, The Bolt and another McBurney completion, Hypothetically Murdered. As usual the soloists were excellent; I would particularly pick out Denis Beganski (Master of Ceremonies) and dancer Rosie Kay (Nastya Terpsikhorova). I wonder whether it might be for the best that there's only a prologue - a longer work would have to be toned down, but the energy in the half hour performance was great fun.

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Current Music: Shostakovich - Orango (Prom 53 Listen Again)

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