BBC Proms reviews

Prom 44: BBC Scottish SO/Volkov @ Royal Albert Hall, London

18 August 2008

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall

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

In the first of two consecutive concerts this week, Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra gave us the UK Premiere of an Elliott Carter work with a Prokofiev oddity and Beethoven at his sunniest.

Tuesday saw the UK premiere of Elliott Carter’s Soundings (2005), dedicated to the composer’s champion in Chicago, Daniel Barenboim, who trod this podium only days ago. The 10 minute piéce d’occasion acknowledges both of Barenboim’s major disciplines, with an interplay of piano solo and orchestra, although here the dual role was split between Nicolas Hodges and Ilan Volkov.

The piano opens the piece with a short flurry and then only interjects minutely before taking over the helm once more at the end. Like other of Carter’s works, there’s some sort of conversation going on, rather a polite and respectful one in this case. A notable tuba solo towards the end makes its presence felt but it’s the dark, still centre of the work that lingers in the memory.

Prokofiev’s rarely-performed Symphony-Concerto, Op. 125 is also marked by a memorably elegiac central section, out of which the characterful cello solo grabs the spotlight with a cadenza of building agitation. All soon subsides and throughout its 38 minutes, nothing really ruffles the feathers of a genial and rather formless work. Lots of ideas buzz around but a piece that started as a cello concerto in the early thirties and underwent several transformations over the following two decades, doesn’t seem quite able to make up its mind what it is. The cello solo, active throughout, was played by Alban Gerhardt, binding the whole thing together, with great ease and assurance.

Volkov made his mark with a swift, shimmering and smooth performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to end an altogether mellow and rather civilised evening.

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