Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 45: City of London Sinfonia – Paul Daniel @ Royal Albert Hall, London

17 August 2006

What a mixed a bag the BBC offered us on this evening: Franco-Polish Surrealism, a groundbreaking Russian concerto, a German lullaby and a dash of Mozart for good measure.

Stravinsky’s Concerto in E flat, nicknamed Dumbarton Oaks after the prestigious Washington district, is certainly less compelling and revolutionary than The Rite of Spring, but its modernity and effort to push composition into the future is instantly recognisable.

The Tempo giusto began, unfortunately, with little life or soul, there was a feeling of non-description and Paul Daniel‘s presence as conductor seemed a little arbitrary.

Moving into the second movement, however, the ensemble and Daniel captured the frivolity of the piece and charged confidently into the urgent Con Moto. The strings stole the piece overall and they certainly seemed to work the hardest. There was a great moment halfway through the third movement, when a little bit of Russian past in the composition collides with the American future Stravinsky was aiming for – the orchestra pulled this off with utter delight.

It is hard to be complimentary at all when a piece of music is as grotesque as Witold Lutoslawski’s Paroles Tissées but there was some talent (somewhat wasted) performing this piece. Lutoslawski takes Jean-Franois Chabrun’s surrealist poem and weaves it into equally surreal music. Harsh strings, brash piano and slaughtered harp jump erratically to lines such as A cat that’s wonder struck and Sleep this whiteness is each new day. Less wonderstruck and more strangled cats, one could say, Ian Bostridge‘s tenor was wasted in this piece. There were hints of excellence but it cannot honestly be said that this performance revealed the splendour of his voice. This was the second less-than-worthy piece of the evening but Wagner and Mozart always make unspoken promises of musical glory.

Reading Barry Millington’s programme note reveals the tender and touching history behind Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and it certainly adds more depth to this already wonderful piece. Written for his wife’s birthday, it is understandable why this piece brought the whole family to tears. The orchestra are light on the strings and woodwind remain subtle to give the lullaby its dream-like sound. Wagner’s composition has an enchanting Italian feel to it and the orchestra’s light foreplay honoured this. Equally, however, the City of London Sinfonia excelled in reaching the typically German epic bombast, with the crescendo three-quarters of the way into the piece being especially well accomplished.

As a prelude to the late night Mozart offerings in Prom 46, the ensemble and Daniel finished with the master’s Symphony No.41 in C major, K551, also known as Jupiter, and they play with flair and style. By far the greatest performance in this Prom, it suitably excused the earlier weakness of the evening.

Jupiter is an apt name, especially with the celestial sound of the first movement with heavy reverberations on the cellos and double basses mixed with regal trumpets and oboes. Mozart came easier to this orchestra and a whole change in energy and effort was evident – a great ensemble playing great music. Within the Allegro vivace Mozart adds a few ditties which act as a pre-cursor to the light poetic rise and fall of notes in the Andante cantabile and Menuetto and Trio: Allegretto. Paul Daniel felt this music and the change in his conducting was remarkable. He had full control of the orchestra and was an inspiring leader, working the musicians up to the fourth movement and taking the audience along with him. The Molto allegro reverts back to the stately sound of the first movement but with a greater sense of urgency. The violins especially captured the more energetic and free sound of this movement and the all the musicians mirrored Mozart’s great crescendo.

This was a great end to Prom 45 and a fantastic start to Prom 46 and with the absence of The Orchestra of St Luke’s and Donald Runnicles (who were meant to be performing) proving, sadly, that the threat of terrorism will even affect the world of art, the City of London Sinfonia and Paul Daniel stepped in and did a grand job overall.

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