BBC Proms reviews

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

28 July 2014

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Andy Paradise/Royal Albert Hall)

The BBC Proms has always been a showcase for new music and with 13 UK premieres and 10 world premieres, this year is no exception. Opening this BBC Symphony Orchestra concert under guest conductor Josep Pons was the first ever performance of Gaia Theory by Jonathan Dove, a work inspired by the writings of environmentalist James Lovelock. London-born Dove has had his music performed at the Proms a number of times before, including an outing for his A Song of Joys at the 2010 Last Night.

Lasting just over 20 minutes, Gaia Theory made an immediate impression. Echoes of the music of John Adams, particularly Harmonielehrer, were never far away, but the work’s teeming melodic invention and rhythmic vitality provided an enjoyable listen. Framed by two lively outer movements, the slow movement was especially attractive, the main theme on cellos being both languid and rapturous. My only reservation was with the work’s abrupt conclusion with a tam tam crash; something a little more stately might have brought about a stronger sense of closure.

Music of a different century featured next in the form of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 in A major, a fluid and spontaneous interpretation of which was given by Argentinean pianist Ingrid Fliter. The performance was especially notable for the quality of the orchestral accompaniment, with expressive woodwinds and graceful string playing. Unfortunately, an endless cascade of coughing from the audience marred the Adagio, a factor that may well have accounted for the brief lapse of memory Fliter suffered from towards the end of the movement. There was also intrusive applause after the first movement, behaviour that might have been understandable had not Pons previously gestured his desire for silence between movements during the earlier Dove piece.

The concert’s second half comprised Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé, a work not performed in its complete form at the Proms until 1970, but now fortunately standard fare. Pons demonstrated a strongly characterised account of Ravel’s score, the interpretation enjoying poetry, atmosphere and a sense of the elemental. Some occasional slips aside, the orchestral contribution was fluent and rapturous, with effective contributions from horn, woodwinds and percussion, leading to an exciting performance of the concluding Bacchanal.

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