Rumon Gamba has made his name more recently as a prolific conductor of film scores by British classical composers, and on that basis the drama offered by Britten’s Four Sea Interludes seemed an ideal concert choice. So too the Tchaikovsky, of which more later.
In between the two, Howard Shelley joined the orchestra in a rare opportunity to hear Alan Rawsthorne’s second piano concerto. Rawsthorne has suffered considerable neglect in recent years, and while it was a disappointment that this was his only work to be afforded a Proms performance this year, his star seems to be on the rise in this centenary year. If only the coughers hadn’t had their say, ‘enjoying’ an obbligato part with the orchestra, second only in rank to the cretin who had left their mobile phone on full volume.
Enough of the griping, though – the music shone through, thankfully, Shelley securing wonderful control of the quieter passages in the first movement, hypnotic at the end. The accompanists helped, too – a searching clarinet solo was the highlight of an atmospheric slow movement, hushed strings complementing Rawsthorne’s economical yet moving piano line. As the final Allegro began there was a mysterious colouring achieved between oboe and strings, whilst the duet between low range clarinet and piano was extremely well executed towards the end. In all, Shelley deserved enormous credit for a concentrated and highly musical performance.
The drama that is the opening of Tchaikovsky’s fourth started relatively forcefully but took a while to warm up fully, the performance gaining dynamism and strength as it progressed. Gamba bobbed and weaved on the platform, legs strangely still while everything else flailed, and this occasionally led to a lack of rhythmic togetherness as the strings accompanied the clarinet’s dancing theme in the first movement.
A warm second movement – too warm for some tastes, perhaps – led to an extremely well rehearsed Scherzo, the strings’ taut pizzicato sections framing a nicely shaped woodwind passage. The Finale was the most exciting, Gamba’s arms whirling like a windmill through the relative hysteria at the end, a real high octane finish.
To begin, Britten’s Sea Interludes kept the sea theme of the season, and here Gamba was most successful. The bright bird calls of the woodwind were sharply in focus, while phrasing suitably ebbed and flowed for Moonlight. The storm raged with the BBC NoW brass, and despite an uncomfortable pulling back for the slower music, Gamba was home and dry.