qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

1812 And All That

I was a bit further back in the queue for Prom 43 on Monday, and I noticed it was building quite quickly. For the first time this season, I saw it extending out of sight on Prince Consort Road. Once inside the hall, I inexplicably found myself in the second row. (Well, nothing's inexplicable; but a surprising number of people in front of me were going for the few seats in the arena, or avoiding the front). Some time before the concert began the stewards began moving us up, saying that the arena would be sold out.

The concert began with Stravinsky's Scherzo fantastique. I know this piece vaguely and it seemed to be well played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner. The next piece was Rachmaninov's The Bells. I thought - and checking the Proms archive, I was correct - I had heard this piece before at the Proms (in 2011), on which occasion it apparently didn't make a particular impression on me. This time, it certainly did. Maybe it was because I was at the front of the arena; maybe the soloists (Albina Shagimuratova, Stuart Skelton, and Mikhail Petrenko) were better. Certainly the combined forces of the BBC Symphony Chorus and Chrouch End Festival Chorus were quite spectacular.

The second half of the concert began with Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, with soloist Baiba Skride. I'm finding a pattern this season of enjoying unfamiliar works by my not-so-favourite composers, and this certainly fits that. The orchestra was scaled back, and the 20-minute work might in some circumstances be a good partner for Prokofiev's Classical Symphony.

I suspect most of the audience had, like me, selected this concert mainly for the final work: Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture. Apparently this was played several times a season, accumulating over 100 times at the Proms by the end of World War 1; but since the 1960s it has become something of a rarity. On this occasion, as I had speculated, we had an arrangement by Igor Buketoff (the first performance at the Proms of this version), with the choir starting a capella and also returning at the end. The tempo was slow, almost Bernsteinesque at times, and the concert as a whole ran behind. Sadly we didn't see any "real" cannon, but just (barely above the sound of the choir) an effect coming through speakers above the stage. The programme notes describe the circumstances of its composition as "the recipe for a piece that would be soon forgotten", yet somehow it didn't quite turn out like that. Maybe the piece is clichéd; but so was the response. It brought the house down, and the Prommers added their own "cannon effect" amid the applause.
Tags: music
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