Prom 10 saw the coming together of two of the particular areas of focus of this year’s Proms programme, namely piano concertos and choral music. It also marked the midpoint of Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s performance of all five Beethoven piano concertos over the course of four days at the Royal Albert Hall (also drawing to a close their impressive four year long tour that has seen them play in 55 cities across 22 countries).
For this trio of concerts the piano concertos are paired with some of Stravinsky’s lesser-performed pieces and it was his ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ Concerto in E flat major that opened this Prom. One of his more moderate pieces, it is a light, airy confection of a concerto, offering moments akin to something like musical shadowplay. The meticulous playing of the MCO mirrored Stravinsky’s compositional approach – the sharpness of the clarinet and the nods to jazz of the bassoon standing out against the climbing brass and fluttering strings.
A glorious orchestral flow swept through the early stages of the MCO’s playing of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The gradual build to magnificence of the opening movement was enacted with authority, the liberated strings firmly laying down melodies carried through into the piano runs of Leif Ove Andsnes. He has an immediately effortless style of piano playing, managing to be simultaneously self-contained yet continually reaching skywards. His playing during the second movement was especially delicate, revealing the remarkable closeness between orchestra and soloist. The ceremonial thrust of the strings in the final movement contrasted with the deftness of the piano, ensuring a powerful finale.
The second half of the programme saw the BBC Singers take to the stage under the guidance of chorus-master David Hill, to perform Friede auf Erden by Arnold Schoenberg. It offers an altogether more confronting musical prospect, unafraid to move in unconventional directions. The BBC Singers cannot be faulted but they were unable to prevent the work from sounding slightly unloveable and out-of-place, despite its juxtapositional presence alongside Beethoven’s Fantasia in C minor for piano, chorus and orchestra.
This ‘Choral Fantasy’ closed the performance. In some respects it may be a condensed precursor to his iconic Symphony No. 9 but it is also a piece of strange imbalances and contrasts. The light-hearted, fanciful opening is gradually superseded by driving strings whilst Andsnes’ pianissimo playing gave way to choral exuberance. Yet, the assured playing of the MCO alongside Andsnes’ stand-out qualities pulled it all together neatly, proving that ultimately there are few combinations better qualified to present programmes such as this.
Full details of upcoming BBC Proms can be found here: bbc.co.uk/proms