This is a Journal entry by h5ringer
h5ringer Posted Aug 25, 2009
Monday, 24 August
London Symphony Orchestra cond. Valery Gergiev
Two works in this Prom: Alfred Schnittke's oratorio 'Nagasaki', dating from the composer's student days in the late 1950s but not given a public concert performance until 2006 and now receiving its UK première, and secondly Dmitri Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony, For various reasons I am only going to comment here on the second of the two works.
Whenever I listen to this 8th symphony, I'm always waiting to hear the third movement which seems to me to be the part which makes or breaks a performance. My reference standard is the glorious old 1962 (or thereabouts) recording by Kiril Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, issued originally on the Russian Melodiya record label and subsequently by EMI. Does anyone remember those Melodiya records – great thick slabs of vinyl, twice the weight at least of other label's discs? No warping there.
Anyway for me that performance of the 3rd movement has exactly the right amount of attack and venom and some absolutely glorious trumpet playing. Somehow most other performances I have on CD or have heard pale in comparison. Last night Gergiev and the LSO came as close to that as I think a modern symphony orchestra can today. The rough edge, not ragged just rough, of the Moscow Phil recording fits perfectly the acidity of Shostakovich's writing. Today's top orchestras are just too polished, too sure. The solo trumpeter in that old recording was hanging on for grim death and the resultant sound is hair-raising.
Gergiev has been chief conductor of the LSO for two years now and the partnership is working beautifully. One thing I have been ware of in his recent performances, and last night's performance of the slow first movement of the Shostakovich 8 was a good example, is the way he illuminates the music from within, showing off the internal workings as it were. And yet when you compare his timings with other interpretations, he doesn't take appreciably any longer – he hasn't dawdled along the way, nor does he skip ahead in places to catch up.
My only criticism on a first hearing – and it is only a little one – is that although the fourth movement carries on without a break, a tiny pause, no more than a bar, is just sufficient to allow the tumult at the conclusion of the 3rd to echo around the hall before the crushing and savage blow that launches the contemplative 4th movement Adagio. Gergiev's pause was just too short to allow its full effect.
Well worth a listen on BBC iPlayer.
AlsoRan80 Posted Aug 25, 2009
Oh dear - I missed it. I shall try and work out how to listen to that iplayer thing. ""
What a wonderful critique. \you really make it live.
h5ringer Posted Aug 25, 2009
Hi there again Christiane
Here is the link to that Prom: http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms/2009/whatson/2408.shtml
If you scroll down you will find buttons to listen to part1 (Schnittke) and part 2 (Shostakovich).
Incidentally, you might be interested to know that the world premiere of the Schnittke oratorio was given in 2006 in Cape Town.
AlsoRan80 Posted Aug 26, 2009
Thank you H5Ringer.
Interesting about that Schnittke first performance. It must have been by the Cape Town Symphopny Orchestra.
My mother played the violin in that orchestra and she gave the first perfomance of Vaughan Williams "The Lark Ascending" in South Africa. She also toured England with the Cape town Orcestra in about 1925 I blieve.
She toured South africa with Anna Pavlova as well. This time as a quartet with the wonderful ballerina. I was always horrified when she told me she had a dirty dressing gown. !! Honestly. A sublime dancer. I would not look beyond that. At least I think not. !!! Anyway someone should have been there to clean her dressing gown. !!I shall try and listen to it if I can switch up the volumne
h5ringer Posted Aug 28, 2009
Thursday, 27 August
Dresden Staatskapelle cond. Fabio Luisi
I would have listened to this Prom no matter what the programme might have been; to hear the magnificent Dresden Staatskapelle under its relatively new conductor, Fabio Luisi (appointed in 2007) is a privilege. To hear and see them perform on television was an added bonus; to see and hear them perform Richard Strauss's 'Alpine Symphony' was hitting the jackpot – the symphony is dedicated to this orchestra. Such is the pace of the modern world that this programme was a repeat of the orchestra's last home concert of the season, given at 20.00 the previous evening in Dresden!
Before the Strauss symphony, which occupied the second half of the concert, were two first half pieces. The first was the UK première of a revised version of a 15-minute work by Rebecca Saunders, entitled 'traces' – the lowercase 't' is apparently correct. The composer was born on London in 1967, but is now based in Berlin. Her interest is in producing a sound-field, sometimes using the instruments of the orchestra in unusual ways to generate the effects she wants. In 'traces' she is not sparing in her use of orchestral resources – both a piano and a piano-accordion were employed, as well as a full range of percussion instruments. Painting with orchestral sounds it may be, but is it music? Sadly, for me it was not.
The second item in the opening half was Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, played by the Chinese pianist Lang Lang. This man, now aged 29, is the product of an ambitious father and a post-Cultural Revolution authorities' acceptance of Western music and the piano in particular. It is said there are now something like 50 million young people in China learning the piano. He is a superstar, fêted wherever he goes. He is also a supreme showman, much like Liszt and to a certain extent, Chopin, before him. The Chopin second concerto is an obvious candidate for display - the pianist can tug on the Romantic heartstrings as much as he wishes – the second movement features regularly on popular-classic compilation CDs. Lang Lang delivered exactly what you'd expect, a romantic interpretation of a Romantic concerto, no more, no less.
If Rebecca Saunders piece was less than economical with resources, it is nothing compared with that required for Richard Strauss's 'Alpine Symphony' – the off-stage band, representing the hunting party, alone calls for 12 horns, two trumpets and two trombones, although here they were played on-stage muted. The array of percussion instruments, including wind and thunder machines, is gargantuan! Rarely is the stage of the Royal Albert Hall so full for a concert that does not involve a large chorus. Whatever one may think about Strauss and/or his music, there is no denying that he really was a master of orchestration. Although called a symphony, it is a tone poem describing the ascent and subsequent descent of an alpine mountain. It comprising 22 episodes played without a break, the whole work lasting some 50 minutes. A well polished performance.
There'll be no reports from me on next week's Proms as I'm taking a break in North Yorkshire. Back thereafter for what all too soon will be the final week of this season's Proms.
Galaxy Babe - eclectic editor Posted Aug 29, 2009
h5ringer Posted Sep 8, 2009
Monday, 7 September
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra cond. Riccardo Chailly
All too soon we have come to the final week of the 115th season of the Henry Wood Promenade concerts. The week started on Sunday with a performance of Handel's 'Messiah', the choral parts being sung by seven youth/junior choirs from around the country, including the Scunthorpe Co-operative Junior Choir, the winner of last year's BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year competition.
And so on to the Mendelssohn/Mahler concert. The main work was a performance of Deryck Cooke's 'performing version' of Mahler's incomplete Tenth Symphony, preceded in the first half by Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No 1. The Mendelssohn was in all honesty a filler piece with no apparent connectivity with the Mahler symphony. I didn't think I knew this concerto until I heard the third movement which was quite familiar, although I couldn't have told you from where.
Entering the Royal Albert Hall last night was one of those déjà vu moments. I remember vividly being, as a teenager 45 years ago, in the arena audience for the first Prom performance by the London Symphony Orchestra of Cooke's early version of Mahler final musical thoughts. I have almost finished writing a full account of this symphony for an upcoming h2g2 entry, which will probably be submitted in the next few months, so I won't go into it here in any detail. What we heard last night was of course Cooke's later, more elaborated version of 1975, produced in conjunction with the brothers David and Colin Matthews.
In the afternoon, before leaving home, I listened to Chailly's 1986 recording of the symphony with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. I was interested to know how it compared with his reading now. Differences were not marked, more in the detail than in the overall picture.
The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is regarded, quite rightly, as one of, if not *the* finest orchestras in the world today. At this Prom they demonstrated exactly why they have that reputation; in every department they excel. Chailly divided his first and second violins left and right respectively, often a beneficial move with Mahler. Placing the violas centre right enabled them to not only be heard, but clearly seen at the opening of the first movement. The double-basses took station up top left, behind the first violins. Their loud pizzicato thumps were just right, maximum volume achieved but without allowing the strings to hit the fingerboard.
The woodwind section was silky smooth and the principal flute was the first of the many individual players that Chailly brought to their feet for applause at the end of the concert. Her major individual contribution comes near the beginning of the last movement in the which the bass drum savagely silences any attempt for musical shoots to grow from the desert of abject nihilism with which the movement opens. The long cantilena flute solo that does manage to achieve life is one of the most beautiful sounds it is possible to imagine. The bass drum that features so dominantly at the conclusion of the fourth movement and throughout the fifth and final movement is one of those details that Chailly has changed. It is normally played as a single unpitched muffled thump, but here Chailly had it played as a fast triplet – ba-ba-BANG. All four percussionists, placed up at the back of the orchestra, away from the other players, are crucial to this symphony and delivered their parts magnificently. The brass section managed that most difficult of tests, to be strident without being edgy – glorious playing. And Chailly himself? His conducting was exemplary and given the layout of his players, he was able to highlight the contribution of the various orchestra sections to great effect, none more so than in the layering that builds the famous nine-note dissonant chord that occurs in the first and last movements.
I only wish this concert had been televised with Maestro Cam available. It was a performance to be treasured.
Galaxy Babe - eclectic editor Posted Sep 13, 2009
h5ringer Posted Sep 13, 2009
Last Night – Saturday, 12 September
BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Singers cond. David Robertson
As I predicted in the first of these journal entries, we have come all too soon to the end of the 2009 Prom season.
Roger Wright, the Director of the Proms, and his team have certainly produced a season of variety in this their first full season, and the Last Night was a real eclectic mix of musical emotions, ranging from the sombre right through to the exuberant.
The First Night had started with fireworks by Stravinsky and the Last Night started with a 'Flourish with Fireworks' by Oliver Knussen. Strange, at one point, about a quarter of the way into the piece, I was sure I was listening to Ravel's 'La Valse'! This was followed by one of those pieces of programming that today we could only find at a Last Night of the Proms - Henry Wood's 'New Suite', a selection of 'bits' of Purcell, arranged for a large orchestra including the great Royal Albert Hall organ, a far cry from the proper settings of these pieces.
Two soloists provided major contributions to this concert: mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and trumpeter Alison Balsom. It being Purcell's 350th birthday year – Henry Wood's 'New Suite' having been written 100 years ago for the 250th anniversary – the second Purcell item on the programme was the lament 'When I am laid in earth' and the chorus that follows it, that conclude Purcell's opera 'Dido and Aeneus'. This, together with the Mahler songs to follow, provided the sombre end of the emotional scale, but before the Mahler songs we heard Haydn's brilliant Trumpet Concerto in E-flat, played exquisitely by the gorgeous Alison Balsom, her first contribution to the evening. Written to take full advantage of the new valved trumpet, Alison took full advantage of the concerto's ability to demonstrate her virtuosity on the instrument.
Sarah Connolly then sang Mahler early song cycle, 'Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen'. These songs are settings of four of the six poems that Mahler wrote and dedicated to Johanna Richter, a singer with whom Mahler had fallen in love while employed as a conductor at the theatre in Kassel, situated in northern Hessen, Germany. It is likely that Mahler's love was a bit of a one-sided affair; in the final song, the young man lies down beneath a linden (lime) tree, which showers its blossom over him - a poetic symbol of death.
The first half of the concert finished at the exuberant end of the scale with another of this year's first Proms performance - Heitor Villa-Lobos's 'Chôros No. 10' for large orchestra and chorus. One of a set of 14 pieces that the composer produced, this is a real Brazilian roof-raiser, although the term 'chôro' ironically meaning weeping, but not in the crying sense.
Part two of the Light Night of the Proms is when the celebrations begin and everybody can let their hair down. The opener was Malcolm Arnold's 'A Grand, Grand Overture' written in 1956 for one of Gerard Hoffnung's Festivals. This piece of what can only be described as Goonery 'featured' conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, musical all-rounder Goldie, violinist Jennifer Pike and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough on stage with the full orchestra, playing vacuum cleaners and floor polisher, with satirist Rory Bremner, pianist Stephen Hough, BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Martha Kearney and BBC Radio 3 presenter Chi-chi Nwanoku in the body of the Royal Albert Hall on rifles; the four on-stage end up being shot by these four - you have to see it to bear any chance of understanding it.
It was of so-called 'Light' music next, with a performance of the final First Prom Appearance items: the once hugely popular 'In a Monastery Garden' by Alfred Ketèlbey, and 'Libertango' by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla. With the party now in full swing, Sarah Connolly and Alison Balsom changed out of their classical clothes to combine with the orchestra (now in swing mode) for the world première of a BBC-commissioned arrangement of Gerswin's 'They can't take that away from me', from the 1937 film 'Shall We Dance'. Wonderful stuff, with the two girls up behind the orchestra, just below and to the left of the organ loft.
The final new work was a set of 'call and response' fanfares, composed by six very young composers, aged 12-18, winners of the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers Competition. This was a technical tour-de-force, requiring perfect timing and coordination of musicians at six Proms in the Park venues around the UK. The 'calls' were made from the RAH, the 'responses' from each of the five venues in turn: Hillsborough Castle, County Down; Glasgow Green; London's Hyde Park; Buile Hill Park, Salford and Singleton Park, Swansea.
After excerpts from Handel's 'Music for the Royal Fireworks', we were on the last lap, starting with Arne's original version of 'Rule Britannia', sung by Sarah Connolly, wearing the uniform of a naval officer from the time of Lord Nelson. The music concluded in the traditional style with Parry's 'Jerusalem' and Elgar's 'Pomp and Circumstance March No.1'.
American-born conductor David Robertson had been in charge of Last Night proceedings for the first time, so as is the custom, the conductor's rostrum was adorned with 'L' plates. He clearly enjoyed himself and carried off his duties, including the obligatory repeats and the speech, with aplomb.
Well done once again BBC, but when are you going to learn that the Last Night of the Proms ALWAYS runs over time; allow an extra 20 minutes or so in the scheduling.
I hope those of you who have followed these journal entries have enjoyed reading them as much as I have writing them. If not, please let me know.
AlsoRan80 Posted Sep 13, 2009
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- 41: h5ringer (Aug 25, 2009)
- 42: AlsoRan80 (Aug 25, 2009)
- 43: h5ringer (Aug 25, 2009)
- 44: AlsoRan80 (Aug 26, 2009)
- 45: h5ringer (Aug 28, 2009)
- 46: Galaxy Babe - eclectic editor (Aug 29, 2009)
- 47: h5ringer (Sep 8, 2009)
- 48: Galaxy Babe - eclectic editor (Sep 13, 2009)
- 49: h5ringer (Sep 13, 2009)
- 50: AlsoRan80 (Sep 13, 2009)