BBC Proms reviews

Prom 56: Minnesota Orchestra/Vänskä @ Royal Albert Hall, London

This concert was the first of two Proms visits by Osmo Vnsk and the Minnesota Orchestra, the start of a short European tour including performances in Edinburgh and Amsterdam.

In keeping with the American provenance of the orchestra, the programme opened with Samuel Barber’s Music for a Scene from Shelley, surprisingly enough a first performance here at the Proms. Composed in 1933, the work opens impressionistically and builds to a lyrical and passionate climax, a trajectory which was steered with warmth and ardour under Vnsk’s direction.

Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No 1 in E flat major was performed by the extraordinarily talented American soloist Alisa Weilerstein. In the mournful Moderato, Weilerstein played at a whisperingly quiet level, daring the audience not to make a sound, and drew out a gossamer thread of a melodic line. Her account of the third movement cadenza similarly held the audience spellbound. But despite Weilerstein’s miraculous control, or perhaps because of it, the essence of Shostakovich’s music remained elusive. The performance also could have benefited from a more pungent orchestral accompaniment in the outer movements.

Weilerstein’s performance was warmly received by the audience and she responded by performing the Gigue from Bach’s Third Cello Suite as an encore.

As with a number of his other symphonies, Bruckner’s Symphony No 4 in E flat major was regularly revised by the composer and exists in number of different versions. Vnsk’s performance involved the rarely heard final version from 1888, which features different orchestration and dynamics compared with the more common 1878/80 version, as well as some cuts in the final two movements. Although a composer’s final thoughts on a work are usually considered definitive, the 1888 version is controversial in that many of the changes were instigated by Bruckner’s pupil Ferdinand Lwe. (Given the significant differences, it was puzzling that no mention of the version being used was made in advance.)

Vnsk’s interpretation was fast paced and rhythmically precise, although a little lacking in power and grandeur. The orchestra’s performance was notable for the eloquence of the brass and the sheen of the strings, especially the violas in the Andante. The atmosphere created by the performers was disturbed, however, by the audience applause between movements and use of flash photography.

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