BBC Proms reviews

Prom 26: BBCSSO/Runnicles @ Royal Albert Hall, London

3 August 2011

Royal Albert Hall

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

Given that London was sweltering in the heat there couldnt have been a more apposite programme than that devised by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and its principal conductor Donald Runnicles. Three composers were represented, but when they happen to be Debussy, Ravel and Dutilleux, it goes without saying the heat outside more than found its match in the sensuous, heady, and sultry ambience of these works that were brilliantly presented by this exciting partnership.

In fact the playing of the BBCSSO was a revelation. Its amazing what a difference a year can make whilst they were impressive in Mahlers 3rd Symphony at last years Proms, they were even better this time round. Obviously working with Runnicles is paying dividends as in each of the works in this Prom the balance was spot on, as was the attention to detail.

Debussys languid Prlude laprs-midi dun faune began with Rosemary Elliots haunting flute solo when it could be heard above the boorish behaviour of some members of the audience. At times it felt as though we were in a TB ward as opposed to the Royal Albert Hall. Orchestras claim to love the audience at the Proms I think it is the worst behaved in London. The light, diaphanous textures which Runnicles drew from the players gave the whole work a sense of glowing transparency.

This was followed by Dutilleuxs Tout un monde lointain ostensibly a cello concerto completed in 1970 for Rostropovich. Its very much like an elegy for cello and orchestra, and soloist Lynn Harrell did a masterly job in never letting this often slow-paced work outstay its welcome. Technically he surmounted all the difficulties that the work threw at him; Runnicles and the orchestra provided excellent support.

The first half of the programme concluded with Ravels Bolro. This definitely is a piece that can outstay its welcome but Runnicles managed to save it from the mire of over-familiarity with a bright and energetic reading. The consumptive audience loved it.

There was more Ravel after the interval. His ballet Daphnis and Chlo was being given complete the truncated Suite No. 2 is what is most often heard in the concert hall, but you really need the choir as well for this erotically-charged work to make a proper impact. Again, textures were well thought through and the impassioned playing of the BBCSSO was matched by the choirs wordless vocalisations. The third part begins with one of the most exquisite musical depictions of a sunrise and concludes with a dance of almost Bacchanalian proportions the work ending with the best musical orgasm ever penned the BBCSSO and Runnicles certainly delivered the goods.

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