BBC Proms reviews

Prom 45: BBCSSO/Volkov @ Royal Albert Hall, London

18 August 2011

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: David Levene/Royal Albert Hall)

For the third of their four appearances at this years Proms, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra teamed up with their former Chief Conductor, Ilan Volkov, to present a concert of music by Austrian composers.

The big ticket item was Bruckners Fifth Symphony, which the composer completed in 1878 at the age of 53. Unlike his preceding symphonies, which he revised a number of times, Bruckner made few changes to the Fifth, perhaps acknowledging that such an original and magnificent work could hardly be improved upon. Despite these qualities, however, its complexity and seriousness of purpose make it a challenging work for both conductor and audience, which perhaps explained the large number of empty seats in the hall. Indeed, this was the least well attended Prom concert Ive been to for some time.

The most impressive feature of Volkovs performance of the Fifth Symphony was his sensitivity to phrasing and colour. The Scherzo was particularly fine, combining a robust energy with a lndler-like lilt, and featuring a swift paced but well characterised Trio. Many other aspects of the symphony were similarly illuminated by Volkovs attention to detail. However, despite well chosen tempi, the first movement was rather underpowered and the Adagio lacked an overarching sense of fervour. The finale was more successful, Volkov negotiating the massive double fugue with aplomb and building the symphony to an exciting conclusion. The standard of orchestral execution was generally very high throughout, with precise string articulation and eloquent woodwind playing among the highlights, and violins placed antiphonally.

The Bruckner symphony was preceded by the world premiere of the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra by Austrian composer and pianist Thomas Larcher. The concerto, which was inspired by an earlier visit Larcher made to the Royal Albert Hall as a performer, also features a quartet of electric zither, percussion, accordion and prepared piano. The works 25 minute span is divided into two movements, the first dynamic and edgy, the second slow and ruminative. The concerto certainly sounds original, at its best evoking a sense of mystery and awe, but I found the high pitched drone which underpins much of the first movement very unattractive and detrimental to the works overall appeal. The interpretation benefited from husband and wife soloists Viktoria Mullova and Matthew Barley performing the violin and cello parts, as well as Larcher himself performing the prepared piano.

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