Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Prom 35: Sunlight and Storms

Sorry, I can’t really get on with “In the South”, beautifully and sensitively played though it was by the BBC Phil and Sinaisky (especially the ‘canto populare’.) That, by the way, has never sounded ‘populare’ to me; and nor can I ever find myself really imagining the Italian Med, filthy weather or not, and I’ve seen it grey and nasty and shivered in the gales coming off it. Though not at Alassio, I admit.

It always seems to me more Elgarian ‘home thoughts from abroad’ — and not that Straussian, as the presenter tried to persuade us, except tangentially in the very colourful way it was played, surprisingly appropriately, tonight—rather than Italian. I reckon I should know. (Clue.) Maybe the photos mentioned in the notes would have helped, but I’ve never seen them.

Coincidentally, the weather in London tonight was just as foul as that Elgar experienced. But that felt very English rather than Mediterannean, too.

Isn’t the Vaughan Williams’ Piano Concerto peculiar? As a piano concerto, that is. I’m not familiar with it at all, but could almost be persuaded into listening to it more often by both the piano playing tonight (just a bit Lisztian, even a spot of diabolism in the first two movements?) by Ashley Wass and John Pickard’s notes.

There were, even, just a very few really Straussian bars in the Romanza. Ever since that Elgar 1, I have become all the more aware through interpretations during this Prom series that the English composers of this generation were by no means as insular as you might think. This performance emphasised that too.

I was very relieved that the presenter didn’t know what Wass’s, beautiful, sensitive, soothing, gentle solo encore was either. He hazarded Frank Bridge, and perhaps so might I, except it seemed more, well, elegant and spare. It was. . .Messaien? I would never have guessed. I have to look out for that.

The Sheherezade? Well, we all know it, don’t we? I was a little concerned as the first movement began with a slower tempo, more deliberate than I expected, but it was a perfect foil to the (gorgeous sounding, really stylish and full of variety of tone, throughout, as were the other principals) violin. In fact, Sinaisky’s tempi were, as it turned out (and it really hotted up until the last movement was practically superheated steam) perfectly judged, well into the gypsyish sections.

The Phil sounded suitably luscious (not lush) where it was needed. And a really forceful, vividly balanced sound from the orchestra in the last movement with a throughly wild violin and orchestra playing a storm that you wouldn’t believe even if you’d been in a hurricane in the Atlantic, finishing with golden rays of sunlit violin and harp chords and stunning timpani. I won’t stop being a fan of the Beecham recording, but this was a truly lovely, joyful, gloriously exciting and thrilling performance of great clarity, that could supersede it.

The audience went crazy. (I cheated and wrote this before they did. I’d have been bloody furious with them if they hadn’t. Being at home, I started clapping before the final chords died away, I’m allowed, there.) If you decided to skip it (and I nearly did, because I’ll be up late listening to the Vespers and wrting, again) you were wrong.

R3 Relay

BBCPO/Vassily Sinaisky; Ashley Wass (pno); Elgar, ‘In the South’; Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto in C Major; Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade.

Glad to hear the Arena’s “Heave!” and the Gallery’s “Ho!” before the Vaughan Williams back up to strength tonight. I thought it was bit feeble last year.

If you listen to the repeat, that’s not microphone hiss your hear in the quiet solo piano passages, it’s rain pounding on the big corrugated dome of the Albert Hall shortly before it hit my windows, equally loudly. And what a fascinating, equally unexpected, R3 interval piece on the archived history (half a million images!) of the ‘Scheherezade’ photographic studio in Sidon, in Lebanon.

Oh, please, BBC, start handing out the free cough sweets again. Look, I smoke (too much, I have done for far too long and you could probably repair roads with what’s in my lungs) but I manage not to cough even listening at home. I once went through agonies at the Barbican muffling my mouth and nose in my hanky until I could hardly breathe, when I had to go despite suffering a terrible bout of ’flu, so if I can, so can some of the Proms audience in the posh seats. It’s nearly always them. It was really bad tonight, and Sinaisky even had to give them time to hawk after the second and third movements. We haven’t had smog in London for half a century, so there’s no excuse. It’s disrespectful. Unforgivable.

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