BBC Proms reviews

Prom 62: Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra/Mehta @ Royal Albert Hall, London

1 September 2011

Royal Albert Hall

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

Prom 62 saw the arrival of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall amidst controversy surrounding their appearance, with protests and counter-protests taking place outside the venue beforehand. Regrettably these carried over into the hall, as pro-Palestinian campaigners within the audience caused several disturbances.

The programme itself concentrated on a selection of shorter pieces by somewhat under-represented composers. Webern’s Passacaglia, his earliest work and arguably one of his most accessible compositions opened the concert. Sadly, this was the most disrupted piece as a group located in the choir began to sing anti-Israeli songs to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy. Even before the interruption however the piece did begin in slightly muted fashion compared to other performances, its usual dynamism being somewhat tempered and minimised. Zubin Mehta and the IPO did however display admirable powers of composure and concentration to struggle through and finish.

The performance of Bruch’s ever-popular Violin Concerto No. 1 was better, despite more disruption at the beginning. It demonstrated the benefits of the long-standing relationship between conductor Zubin Mehta and the IPO whilst soloist Gil Shaham excelled. Mehta in particular exuded considerable calm and patience under difficult circumstances. The modest, pastoral pace of the opening movement flowed into the beautiful lyrical phrasing of second and ended with the soaring melodic passages of the third, all brilliantly conveyed by the IPO. Gil Shaham returned to play a virtuosic encore of the Preludio from Bach’s Third Partita.

Albeniz’s impressionistic Iberia piano suite, inspired by the musical and geographical landscape of Spain, ushered in the second half. The IPO played the orchestrated version by Enrique Fernández Arbós and it was to prove something of a revelation. The IPO despatched it with renewed vigour, almost certainly energised and emboldened by the tense, edgy atmosphere inside the hall. The glistening piano sequences of the original were transformed into bold, flamboyant eruptions of orchestral colour, in some ways foreshadowing some of the jazzy textures found within George Gershwin’s orchestral music. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol continued the Spanish theme, the ceremonious march-like beginning giving way to a rhythmic drive which gradually built towards an ornate, decorative climax.

The IPO reappeared for a second encore, on this occasion playing The Death of Tybalt from Prokofiev’s Romeo And Juliet. Its stark, rhythmic punctuations ensured the evening finished on a high note, almost as if the piece had been deliberately chosen in order to blow away the memory of the earlier transgressions. It may be unfairly remembered as the night that Middle Eastern politics came to the Proms but the resounding ovation afforded by the audience at the end of the concert would see ultimate victory handed to the IPO.

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Prom 62: Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra/Mehta @ Royal Albert Hall, London