Friday, 8 August 2008

Prom 30: Harlem TanzMuzik

I hope Michael Torke’s ‘Javelin’ is the last we’ll hear of the Olympics around here. Programmatic spun sugar soundtrack music with occasional podium fanfares. Agincourt from Henry V made pretty-pretty. It was timed at 8 minutes, or a bit more than 3000m, but seemed to take as long as a marathon. “The Ravel of his generation” the presenter called the composer. What generation would that be, I wonder? Not one I’ve so far belonged to, or would want to in whatever future I have left.

We might, the same presenter said, in a cloyingly sing-song tone have heard the influence of John Adams. We might, I’m damned if I could. Not even out of ‘The Chairman Dances’ which the BBC’s National Orchestra of Wales played with true Swing style, if not quite Adams’s. It had a foot-tapping joyfulness, if rather played on a single level, and even if it did get a little confused in places, it was truly enjoyable. And downright great fun.

In her interview, Han-na Chang displayed an unnervingly ‘New Age’, unsophisticated and somewhat confused conception of Bernstein’s ‘Three Meditations’, showing a total failure to grasp the difference between irony and sarcasm, and whatever role the emotion of ‘bitterness’ might have in either. That probably explains why despite the orchestra’s attempts to get in a little of the atmosphere of West Side Story or On The Town as Indian raga and her competent playing, all three failed to be emotionally convincing or inspiring. Clearly, the soloist and orchestra were just not on the same wavelength, which after that interview didn’t surprise me.

Bernstein got into Ellington’s Harlem, too. Or at least his ‘Prelude, Fugue and Riffs’ got into the first bars, along with a rather unnerving touch of Gershwin. This had to be Kristjan Jarvi, pushing it, surely. As must have been the few bars ‘tribute’ to ‘The Stripper’? It’s a long time since I last heard Harlem, but I don’t recall those being that marked.

As it did in the John Adams, it turned out that the BBCNOOW could swing very nicely indeed, but I have heard it, if not sounding quite so much pure Ellington as they did in places (which I really loved!) a little less derivative as it did at times. The soloists were superb, especially the five saxes, the percussionists tremendously vivacious. The band was really on a roll by the end. I think Ellington would have engaged the lot of them on the spot. Great fun, again.

The audience cheered and stamped—I’m not surprised—and were rewarded by a raucous encore with the band going absolutely wild. (To the extent I wish they’d been allowed to let their hair down like that earlier.) That was almost the best part of the concert.

(And then, someone in the R3 presenter's suite, who'd obviously been listening, decided to keep up the mood before the late-night jazz programme, which it made a trifle late starting, with an amazingly rollicking Rimsky Cappricio Espagnole for piano duo . . .it's on Linn CD—probably the only time I'll give a nod to hi-fi here!—but obviously you all probably missed it and it's worth a try.)

R3 (relay)

Prom 30: Michael Torke: Javelin; John Adams: The Chairman Dances; Bernstein: Three Meditations; Ellington: Harlem

I never, ever, want to hear that presenter (Geoffrey Smith?) again. He may not have meant to, but he sounded patronising, and none of us need to be reminded twice before and three times after short pieces, that a Prom concert is coming from the Albert Hall. I think, three weeks in and thirty concerts, we’ve all just about grasped that. Anyway, on radio, why does it matter? And each time, he was nearly overtaken by the conductor’s up beat before he’d finished talking, which, as you know, I hate. I didn't count the number of times he mentioned the bloody Olympics, but it was too many.

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