Many of the comments overheard at the close of this exceptional concert were in praise of the programme, and for once one had to agree. Sir Mark Elder and the Hall proved yet again that there a few musical partnerships as exciting as this one on the countrys musical landscape as they tackled an all 20th century programme, and more than delivered the goods.
The first half of the Prom was made up entirely of Sibelius. I have always found the Finnish composer a known quantity, finding much of his music intractable, but on this occasion Elder and the Hall were more than persuasive advocates of two works, the first of which was receiving its first performance at the Proms. His Scnes historiques Suit No. 2 was made up of three movements The Hunt, Love Song and At the Drawbridge. Delightful, and enchanting, there was a pastoral feel to the outer movements, whilst Love Song had a suitably melancholic undertow to it.
Sibelius Symphony No. 7 in C Major is a momentous work despite its relative brevity and here Elder and the orchestra brought out all its inner turmoil. Given that it is written in one continuous movement, the twists and turns can be difficult to negotiate in a seamless fashion, but both players and conductor managed these in an exemplary style. Maybe the calm resolution was a bit too easily won, but the symphonys sonorous trombone theme was brilliantly intoned by Gary MacPhee whilst the stings were on particularly iridescent form.
Written for his wife Ditta Psztory, Bartks Piano Concerto No. 3 was the last work the Hungarian composer wrote. Written whilst in exile in America, many passages have an almost elegiac quality to them. Elder and the players provided a deft accompaniment to pianist Andrs Schiff, whose playing was technically faultless and full of intricate nuances which gave the work not only a sense of joie de vivre in the first movement but allowed the Adagio to come across with pathos and a sense of resignation and was utterly sympathetic to its nostalgic bucolic reminisces of the Great Hungarian Plain. Schiff was totally unfazed by the pounding dance-like themes which run throughout the last movement, and here the seemingly ceaseless roulades were played with agility and panache.
Jančeks blindingly original Sinfonietta never fails to make an impression in performance. With its ebullient fanfare introduction, strange craggy orchestral textures trombones plumb the depths whilst flutes and piccolo screech in the stratosphere and obtuse string writing its a work that screams out for an impetuous performance. Whilst it was often viscerally thrilling, Elder too often lingered over passages that needed more of a headlong thrust. Nevertheless, this was music-making of the highest order.