Piers Burton-Page gave a pre-Prom talk on Reinhold Glière, whose massive Symphony No 3 would form the second half of the concert. History tends to prefer the revolutionaries, those who stretch the bounds and court controversy. Glière, on the other hand, was a fairly conservative composer for his time, and furthermore able to adapt to the demands of the Soviet system, and thus has by and large been confined to obscurity. But there is often just as much enjoyment to be had within the comfort zone as at the edge.
The concert itself began with Arvo Pärt's Cantus in Memorian Benjamin Britten. This is a difficult work to get right; the CD I have of it is disappointing, as you can hear the final strike of the bell over the string harmonics from which it is supposed to emerge. However, the BBC Philharmonic and Vassily Sinaisky did not have this problem, and further to his credit, Sinaisky managed to attain a period of silence, albeit short, after the piece had ended. Whilst it's sometimes acceptable for the applause to begin as an exuberant piece ends, a mournful piece needs to be allowed its space. I'm in danger of sounding snobbish, but perhaps the more serious nature of this concert attracted more music-lovers and fewer "tourists".
Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini falls under the category of "nothing we can't hum there" and was, for me, the filler in the programme. Nelson Goerner's rendition was acceptable, but perhaps a little pedestrian in places. However his use of the piano, particularly in a percussive way, was effective and interesting to hear. The famous eighteenth variation is formed out of an incredibly simple idea - simply inverting the main theme - but is so clever. It does produce a cloying sentimentality that can veer dangerously toward Richard Clayderman territory, but the performance was kept under control.
And so to Glière's third symphony, Ilya Muromets. This is a Russian work with a Late Romantic influence, rather than a Late Romantic work with a Russian influence. Dating from 1911, one might think most obviously of Mahler, but in fact on listening, Wagner seems to be more apparent stylistically, with a suggestion too of Richard Strauss. On the Russian side, there are hints of Tchaikovsky, but it's Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov to the fore. Heavily programmatic in style, this does conform to the traditional symphonic structure at the high level, but it is much more narrative than conventional forms. The length of the work is quite evenly distributed across four movements, and there's plenty of acoustic shock and awe. The final climax, as Ilya is turned to stone by Holy Warriors, is probably the loudest piece of music I have ever heard. The Albert Hall acoustic worked well with the scale of the piece. Almost a hundred years after it was written, the Proms premiere was hardly too soon; I doubt it's going to become a highly popular piece, but it was definitely worth the experience and I'd like to hear more of his works.