Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 26: BBC Symphony Orchestra – Sir Andrew Davis @ Royal Albert Hall, London

2 August 2006

This was by some way the most baffling Prom of the season so far, itspromise of pomp, circumstance and humour never quite hitting the mark,despite the odd memorable cameo.

Top of the bill, or rather tucked in after the interval, was the worldpremiere of Anthony Payne’s completion of a sixth Pomp andCircumstance march, in effect his ‘Opus 3’ of Elgar arrangements.Itmade a mostly satisfying whole, with a skilful juxtaposition of double andtriple time.

But when the slower theme appeared the first time round, it wasquickly despatched and felt like an idea Elgar would not have used beyondsketches.

Burton’s orchestration was odd in places, with a strange affliction forthe bell tree, though a finale in the major key rounded off the pieceappropriately if not fully convincingly, making its case to be a possibleextension to the cycle of five rather shaky.

Placing Andrew Davis’ orchestration of Bach’s Passacaglia after this wasa strange move, its solemnity totally at odds with the mood of the Elgar.That said Davis conducted an interesting performance, and from the openingstatement on staccato piano and woodwind the orchestration was economicaland sensitive.

Most impressive, however, was soprano Nicole Cabell, winner oflast year’s BBC Singer of the World competition. Britten’s LesIlluminations has been part of her repertoire for a while now, and herfull, rounded tones were perfectly suited to this sultry music, carriedeffortlessly above Andrew Davis’s sensitive string accompaniment. Themagical descent with which she ended Phase was worth admissionalone, her projection to the audience exemplary.

Bookending the programme were youthful works of Soviet origin,traditional in form but impish in nature. To open, an account ofProkofiev’s ‘Classical’ symphony that had routine charm and the occasionaltouch of humour, but whose violin ensemble was at times rather sketchy.

To finish, a bizarre performance of Shostakovich’s showpiece, the Concerto for Piano, Trumpet & Strings(Piano Concerto No. 1). Asexpected Evgeny Kissin‘s technique was formidable, but hisperformance was peppered with strange note emphases and otherinterpretative quirks, usually at the expense of trumpeter SergeiNakariakov.

After a wonderful slow movement where his instrument almost took on thepersona of a cor anglais, Nakariakov seemed strangely uninvolved in thefinale, his head barely rising to play, while Kissin continued with allmanner of outrageous crashes and tempo adjustments. Given the nature of thepiece these were not inappropriate, but were still done with little or nohumour until close to the end, by which time the trumpet had been relegatedto also-ran rather than partner-in-crime. This was a shame, as Nakariakovplayed beautifully, but was further emphasised by Kissin’s decision to givehis own encore, a larger-than-life March from Prokofiev’s Love for ThreeOranges.

On the plus side, it was an adventurous programme that recalled the spirit ofthe Proms fifty years ago, even if its execution was wildlyunpredictable!

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