qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

  • Music:

Strikes, Sorcery and Synesthesia

I was a little hesitant about heading off to Prom 28, because the weather wasn't brilliant and the programme seemed a bit marginal, but I'm glad I did.

Ironically, the tube strike made it impractical to go to the office so I worked from home in the morning, but it posed no problem for the Prom, as it's a pleasant walk from Paddington across Hyde Park to the Albert Hall. It wasn't a great surprise that the queue was small, both due to the strike and also the eclectic programme which combined popular and unfamiliar works, and I easily got a spot on the rail. The Arena was sparsely populated, and the seats were also a little bare, though this was never a sell-out concert.

The concert began with a very familiar piece, Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. This caught my eye when scanning the season listings, as it's a piece I have never seen live, but it surely wasn't enough to mark the concert all by itself. It's unusual to have the lollipops first, but it was a splendid opener. I couldn't describe Oliver Knussen as looking frail, given his ample avuncular frame, but perhaps infirm or unsteady, and he perched on a bar-stool at the rostrum to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The two central pieces, either side of the interval, made me more wary of the concert. First, Mark-Anthony Turnage's viola concerto, On Opened Ground, which I liked from the beginning, with soloist Lawrence Power throwing fragments into the air and the orchestra catching them. The title is apparently inspired by a collection of poetry by Seamus Heaney, though it'a also a musical pun as the final movement takes the form of a chaconne (on a ground bass).

After the interval, Gunther Schuller's Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee was something quite remarkable. Perhaps like the art that inspired it, it's tricky to describe: the best I can come up with is Pictures at an Exhibition without the Promenade and as if written by some combination of Respighi, Stravinsky, and Ligeti. My favourite sound pictures in the cycle were Antique Harmonies and Arab Village.

The final work in the concert was Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, which had combined with the Dukas to mark the concert out for me. The pre-Prom talk had discussed this at length, including Scriabin's "eccentric" and cult-ish personality, including his synesthesia. As a late romantic work, its voluptuous soundscape should have been ideal for the Hall, yet at times it almost sounded curiously restrained. Nonetheless it was a successful performance, and the concert significantly exceeded my expectations.
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