BBC Proms reviews

Prom 9 @ BBC Philharmonic/Sinaisky @ Royal Albert Hall, London

23 July 2010

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

Vassily Sinaisky conducted the BBC Philharmonic in an exciting programme of ultra-Romantic works – rare Parry, early Scriabin and magic Tchaikovsky. 

The first work was Symphonic Fantasia in B minor by Hubert Parry (the man who wrote Jerusalem). Composed in 1912 the work is straight jacketed by dignity and good taste. Unaware of its own confines, the piece goes through the motions of symphonic thinking- pleasant and academic, never exposing any individual personality and sounding like a fog of butter. There’s plenty of tasteful refinement, tunes and atmosphere, but nothing can free it from the clutches of medioctrity. A ‘warm up’ piece for the orchestra if ever there was one.

Scriabin’s Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, written fifteen years before the Parry piece shows a young Scriabin still trying to free himself from the conservative music of his day, not through harmony or form, but by sheer sensuality. In the first movement the orchestra and piano act out a duet of parallel consciousness rather than one of opposing factions, and Scriabin holds nothing back- gives you every idea at once instead of trying to tease and develop.

Pianist Nelson Goerner was fantastic. He gave everything, exaggerating the dynamic markings perfectly, and with a crisp, clean tone that was fizzing glitter and crackling fire, fully alive to Scriabin’s frustrations and dreams. The second movement is a beautifully tranquil scene like sleeping lovers’ legs, stirring and entwining.

An idiot sitting in front of me with an iPhone was filming, taking photos and even checking his Facebook throughout the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, ‘Pathtique’. For that reason most of the first movement totally passed me by. Murderous feelings towards him were totally in keeping with the music of the second part of the first movement, played roughly – with each melodic thread threatening to drown out the other. Gustav Mahler described Tchaikovsky’s music as being too Italian to be symphonic, and this makes sense in the second movement- it’s pure Ballet. The pizzicato and syncopation really danced in this performance.

After the Indiana Jonesey third movement Sinaisky brought Tchaikovsky’s deepest feelings out into the open. All reckless honesty and exposed pain, the final movement was a tragedy and a triumph. Composed years before the other two works on the programme, this symphony is a document of the physicality of emotion, as essential an artistic experience as Doctor Zhivago or Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

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More on Vassily Sinaisky
Prom 9 @ BBC Philharmonic/Sinaisky @ Royal Albert Hall, London
Prom 42: Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker; Iolanta @ Royal Albert Hall, London