Classical and Opera Reviews

Prom 46: Philharmonia/Salonen @ Royal Albert Hall, London

20 August 2010


When Arvo Prt last completed a symphony in 1971, he could shortly not have forseen that his next foray into the medium would be subtitled ‘Los Angeles’.

Such is the international appeal of the composer these days, though interestingly this Prom was by no means sold out for the premiere of Prt’s fourth symphony, suggesting a slight thaw in his appeal.

Scored for strings and percussion, the piece proved substantial but elusive, rather like its dedication, Prt offering it in honour of the imprisoned Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky without openly celebrating his misdeeds. With the composer’s characteristically striking sonorities, the work cast its spell early on with slowly shifting harmonies, the tension sustained by conductor Esa Pekka Salonen.

Yet development, both emotional and melodic, was slow in coming despite the atmospheric setting and beautiful playing of the Philharmonia strings. The second movement exploited a widescreen combination of percussion and pizzicato strings, but again seemed content to do just that, while the much vaunted ascent from the depths in the finale felt underpowered as a conclusive gesture.

This takes nothing away from the performers, though the BBC should hang their heads for installing a remote camera that could be clearly heard traversing its custom built track on at least three occasions during the quietest parts of the second movement.

To open we had a raucous, metallic account of Mosolov’s incendiary Iron Foundry, a representative piece of the Soviet avant garde in the late 1920s, and riotously entertaining.

The high standards were kept after the interval, where Jean-Efflam Bavouzet was a fine soloist in Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, the orchestra offering colourful support. From the murky depths of its opening to the pianist’s explosive cadenza, this was a captivating performance and strongly rhythmic, too.

The same could be said of Scriabin’s Poem Of Ecstasy, part of a Proms focus on a composer once championed by Sir Henry Wood. Salonen rightly indulged himself in the sumptuous colours and sensuous instrumental effects, the Philharmonia ending as they began the evening with a massive wall of sound.



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