BBC Proms reviews

Prom 15: BBC SO/Bělohlávek @ Royal Albert Hall, London

27 July 2009

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

Dance and folk music were at the heart of Prom 15. You’d have won no prizes for guessing that Jiří Bělohlávek would make a good job of the first half of tonight’s concert. A joyously whirling Bartered Bride overture was joined by another Czech work: Martinu’s Concerto for two pianos and orchestra.

Despite the presence of two soloists (duellists?), Martinu’s 1942 work suffers from less-than-interesting parts for the pianists. Some jazzy episodes aside, the orchestral material is much more engaging, from the bright symphonic writing of the first movement to some plaintive woodwind in the adagio.

That was tough on the hardworking Jaroslava Pechocová and Václav Mácha, making their proms debuts, and on Martinu admirers who are not well-served in this 50th anniversary of the composer’s death, with just three works in the season, none of the highest order.

Squeezed in between these two Czech pieces was the less exuberant, angular and utterly brilliant Dance Suite by Béla Bartók, with its strangely attractive middle eastern sounds mingling with Hungarian and Romanian themes that hark forward to the better known Concerto for Orchestra.

If Bělohlávek did not stray far from his homeland in the first half, his handling of the one work after the interval was less predictable. In the event, it was an exhilarating performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, if oddly curtailed in the revised 1947 version.

It had plenty of drive and humour, reminiscent of the composer’s own magnificent reading with the Columbia Symphony and was a great way to begin the series of complete Stravinsky ballets. A reminder, if one was needed, that Petrushka stands alongside The Rite of Spring as the greatest of his ballet scores.

• Jiří Bělohlávek will conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the complete symphonies of Martinu at Barbican Hall starting on 3 October. There are further concerts on 9 October 2009, 19 February, 19 March, 17 April and 8 May 2010. Full details at

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