BBC Proms reviews

Prom 55: Philharmonia Orchestra/Eötvös @ Royal Albert Hall, London

27 August 2008

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

The Philharmonia revelled in a super-charged evening of sultry, exotic classics, shot-through with a hint of eroticism, as well as delivering the thrilling UK premiere of Peter Eötvös’ Seven all under the inspired baton of the young Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki, stepping in at short notice for an ailing Eötvös.

It was a canny decision to programme a selection of classics from the repertoire alongside the UK premiere of Peter Eötvös’ Seven a violin concerto honouring the memory of the seven astronauts who perished aboard the Challenger spacecraft. The inclusion of such favourites as The Lark Ascending and Daphnis et Chloe Suite no. 2 guaranteed a packed hall, so it was astute to bring a modern work to an audience who probably wouldn’t give it the time of day otherwise.

This meant there was a Classic FM feel to those gathered in the RAH last night, with the majority feeling the need to applaud at every conceivable opportunity especially irritating throughout Sarah Connolly’s rapt, intense reading of Ravel’s exquisite Shéhérazade she ended the first song Asie to a cacophony of clapping, coughing and the dulcet tones of a mobile phone. Ghastly behaviour. This distracted from a glorious reading where, in conjunction with the wonderfully responsive conducting of Susanna Mälkki, Connolly teased every Gallic nuance out of this most luscious and exotic of song-cycles.

Earlier we had been treated to a hot and sultry rendition of Debussy’s Prélude L’aprés-midi d’un faune, languid in its execution yet alive to the rhythmic impulses that permeate the work. Kenneth Smith provided some delicious solo flute playing, whilst the orchestra revelled in Debussy’s harmonies.

There was a complete change of pace in the UK premiere of Peter Eötvös’ Seven, and whilst there wasn’t a huge amount of variety in the work one admired the orchestral palette deployed by the composer. Soloist Akiko Suwanai was outstanding and made ease of the fiendishly difficult writing, and having six further violinists placed at the entrance to each area of the stalls allowed for other-worldly spatial effects.

Suwanai was beguiling in the Vaughan Williams perennial favourite whilst the Daphnis and Chloe Suite no. 2 drew the concert to an appropriately orgasmic close; Ravel at his most sensuous. It’s hard to know how much rehearsal time Mälkki had had with the orchestra but on this showing she more than fulfilled her good notices in the press. With a clear technique aligned to an innate ability to bring out the right tinta of each piece, the performance indicated she has a major career ahead of her.

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