Sunday, 18 August 2019

Vladimir Jurowski Prom : Glazunov, and Russian goodies

Vladimir Jurowski - photo : Roman Gontcharov, 2017, courtesy IMG Artists

Vladimir Jurowski conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Rimsky Korsakov, Rachmaninov, Lyadov and Glazunov.  Prom 41 worked fine on purely musical terms - satisfying repertoire, by a conductor who excels in this music, though he'd typically spice up the programme with somthing more unusual for his regular Royal Festival  Hall audiences, who are more discerning than at the ROyal Albert Hall. When he moves on, he'll be greatly missed. So more's the pity that the BBC Proms team script prioritized the "Henry Wood novelties" marketing gimmick over and above the music and conductor. Henry Wood was a musician not a "brand". He would not have been amused that his name has been used in vain !

He would have beamed, though, at the performance - especially the Glazunov, vividly executed.  Again, the stupidity of the BBC Proms team's obsession with fake firsts and non-musical tickboxes. Don't they keep up withn the world outside the Proms ? Glazunov, who died in 1936, was big decades ago, and the more recent revival's been around a good 25 years. Lots of recordings to choose from, too, so there's never really been a drought.  Jurowski conducted Glazunov's Symphony no 5 in b flat minor,  op 55 (1895), popular and sccessible because it fits the image of  Russian music as music for the stage and ballet. The subtitle "heroic" expresses it aptly - plenty of nationalist colour, not a lot of introspection. Jurowski, whose forte is sensitive reflection, emphasized the structural logic behind the drama. A darkly brooding first movement, setting the scene perhaps for the "Russian soul" of public imagination.  Wisely, Jurowski focussed on the panorama,  long,expansive lines, unfolding like endless horizons. The quality of the LPO playing highlighted details - excellent smaller-unit sections clearly defined. This sharp focus gave the scherzo character - fast passages spiking up the cheerful main theme. The andante was thus framed in context - a calm walking pace threatened by dark, ominous chords.  This gave context to the final moveemnt, an allegro, but with powerful, assertive purpose - it's not marked "maestoso" for nothing, it's the culmination of a journey through the earlier movements.  Jurowski conducted the animato conclusdion with vigour - the top lines (winds, strings) flying triumphantly over darker undertones (brass, lower strings).  Glazunov's Symphony no 5 works perfectly well on its own terms. There's no need to keep referring to its perceived resemblance to other composers. That's lazy thinking - all composers are influenced by others. The skill lies in appreciating what a composer does on his own terms.

Jurowski has conducted Rimsky-Korsakov, Lyadov and Rachmaninov numerous times, so this Prom was enjoyable, although only a fraction of what he can do given more programming choice.  A delightful Rimsky-Korsakov Mlada Suite, its ballet origins giving it energy and colour.  I  liked the way Jurowski and the LPO created the physicality in the ostinato passages - dancers' feet landing on the ground after cheerful dancing. Alexander Ghindin was the soloist in Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor (original version, 1891). Three pieces from Anatoly Lyadov, whom Jurowski has done a lot of in the past, Baba-Yaga, Kikimora and From the Apocalypse. A nice safe programme redeemed by excellent performance. Musicians winning out, despite the suits of BBC formula. .

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Queen Victoria's 200th Birthday Prom - Mendelssohn, Fischer, OAE, Hough

BBC Prom 40, marking the 200th annivesary of the birth of Queen Victoria,with Ádám Fischer and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and Mendelssohn, Piano Concerto no 1 in G minor (Stephen Hough) and Symphony no 3 "The Scottish", with Arthur Sullivan's suite on Victoria and Merrie England and a set of songs by Prince Albert himself (Alessandro Fisher, tenor).  An apposite reminder of how much British music and culture owes to the friendship betwen the Queen, the Prince Consort and Felix Mendelssohn. Victoria was the only heir of a large family of princes more prone to profligacy than cultivation. Being young and isolated, she might have been easy prey for the rich and powerful, married off to someone more interested in his own fortunes than to the fortunes of her country.  Luckily, in Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, she chose a man with a background as illustrious as her own, and even more fortuitously, a man enlightened by the ideals of the Romantc sensibility, who believed that culture was fundamental to progress, and that education and the arts are as valuable to a nation as economic growth.  Imagine if she'd married a gammon! Her horizons, like his, were European, and forward-looking, and she knew good music. In the Giclée print above, she's seen admiring Albert at the organ (with Mendelssohn looking on) "playing so charmingly, clearly and correctly that it would have been credit to any professional". 

To emphasize the difference between the early Victorian era, when Victoria and Albert were together, and the late period, when Albert was long gone, Fischer and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment began the Prom with Arthur Sullivan's Victoria and Merrie England - ballet suite No 1. Two very different artistic sensilibilities indeed. The ballet was very popular in its time (1897), full of colourful scenes and dances. The Queen and her family attended but times had changed.  It's jolly, almost a throwback to popular entertainment : comfort music for the satisfied middle classes, with references to an idealized past, with dutiful patriotic references. The world of the early Romantic period with its soul searching and idealism is very far away. 

In contrast, Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto no 1 in G minor , Stephen Hough playing an 1856 Érard commissioned for Victoria and Albert who used it regularly when they made music in private.  The sound is very different to the sound of a modern concert grand. The leatrher hammers are encased in felt, the registers brighter, more "singing" than pounding. The keys are narrower, requiring lighter, more agile performance technique. Earlier this year, Kristian Bezuidenhout used a slightly earlier Érard when he played Mendelssohn's  Double Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Strings with Sir John Eliot Gardiner (please read more here),  demonstrating how the instruments Mendelssohn used influenced his compositional development.  Since Stephen Hough doesn't normally play early instruments, his approach wasn't as fluid as a specialist like Bezuidenhout, but Fischer and the OAE supported him with verve. I quite liked the tension between piano and orchestra.  The five Lieder by Prince Albert : Gruss aus der Ferne, Standchen, Gruss an den Bruder, Aus Wilhelm Meister and  Lebewohl were far more conventional, composed as they were for private performance, albeit by somewhat above average amateurs. The soloist was Alessandro Fisher.  

With Mendelssohn Symphony No 3 in A minor, Op 56 (Scottish), Fischer and the OAE returned to the almost symbiotic relationship betwee The Queen, Prince Albert and Mendelssohn.  Compared with his privileged upbringing in Berlin, Scotland must have been primitive wilderness, in a era before tourism, without mod cons. But that was the attraction. To early Romantics, Scotland symbolized an escape from the constraints of respectable civilization, where Nature challenged mankind, liberating creative imagination.  Mendelssohn knew Scotland long before Victoria did. His influence may have helped shape her later love for the country and the freedom it represented.  The first movement began with a hush, evoking the mystery that ruins evoked in the Romantic psyche. The pace picked up, with ebullience : nothing meek about the Romantic sense of adventure. The moments of calm made the "storm" in the allegro un poco agitato loom up impressively. Perhaps those soaring chords might also suggest mountains : Fischer certainly didn't stint on intensity.  "Outdoors" freedom in the second movement with its suggestions of energetic Highland dance, ending with figure suggesting hunting horn : a nod to the forests of Middle Europe. Fischer's Adagio was firmly sculpted ; suggesting strength and deliberation, contrasting well with the more feminine melody which might signify Mary Queen of Scots or some doomed heroine. The final movement began briskly,  the brightness of the OAE sound gloriously vivid. "Vivacissimo" gradually becomes "molto assai". What might this signify? The manic energy faded to an anthem, where strong figures again rang forth, now with exuberant triumph.  Blazing finale!  

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Lucerne Festival livestreams coming up!

Complete list of livestreams direct from the Lucerne Festival with Riccardo Chailly and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra !

Opening Concert Friday, 16 August | 18.30 | KKL Luzern, Concert Hall LUCERNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA Riccardo Chailly conductor Denis Matsuev piano Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 | Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14 (Orchestral version) |Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44

Symphony Concert 1 Saturday, 17 August | 19.45| KKL Luzern, Concert Hall LUCERNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA Riccardo Chailly conductor Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36

Symphony Concert 4 Thursday, 22 August | 20.45| KKL Luzern, Concert Hall LUCERNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA Yannick Nézet-Séguin conductor Dmitri Shostakovitch: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43 

Symphony Concert 21 Sunday, 8 September | 18.30 | KKL Luzern, Concert Hall Orchestra of the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ALUMNI Riccardo Chailly conductor Jacques Zoon flute Lucas Macías Navarro oboe Alexander Mosolov: The Iron Foundry Op. 19 Bruno Maderna: Grande Aulodia for flute and oboe solo with orchestra (Swiss premiere) Arnold Schoenberg: Five Orchestra Pieces, Op. 16 version for large orchestra from 1909 Wolfgang Rihm: Dis-Kontur for large orchestra (Swiss premiere)

Monday, 12 August 2019

Semyon Bychkov Prom : Detlev Glanert, Mahler 4

                                                                                                      Photo: Roger Thomas 

Prom 33 at the Royal Albert Hall, with Semyon Bychkov conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Detlev Glanert and Gustav Mahler Symphony no 4.  Bychkov and the BBC SO are always reliable, so this Mahler 4 should have been safe.  Glanert's been a Proms favourite for years - 9 individual works since 1995. So no surpises there, either. But sometimes safe is not enough. How I longed for something to ignite, to lift the performances from routine to what they could have been!

Detlev Glanert

Detlev Glanert was one of Hans Werner Henze's few students. Like Henze, Glanert's very prolific - 11 operas, including Caligula which has been staged in London, (see more here and my review of a performance in Frankfurt here) and numerous other works, including the fairly recent Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch. Please see my detailed review of that here, which will be useful since that, too is coming to the Barbican on 4th December, with Semyon Bychkov conducting the BBCSO, part of a Total Immersion Day into Glanert's career. (Please see more here). That's the real reason behind this Proms programme - not because Einsamkeit is connected to Mahler.  Not at all - read the poem ! One of Glanert's things has been his adaptations of other composer's works - oodles and oddles of them, not all straightforward orchestrations. Some have been much more original works, like his early Mahler Skizze, a zany"joke" combining different themes from Mahler. He has often reorchestrated Schubert, many of these miniatures featuring in earlier proms over the years. Glanert's Einsamkeit is based on Schubert's Einsamkeit D620 (1818), a long ballad to a poem by Franz Joseph Mayrhofer, with whom Schubert had a curious relationship. Morose and possibly mentally unstable, Mayrhofer had few friends and eventually committed suicide, so the poem is oddly prophetic. Please read the text here on, with translations.  If poems could be bipolar, this might be one, with its repeating first lines, and extreme contrasts betwen verses. The piano part in Schubert's setting swings from vehement to eerily insouciant, with obssessive pedalling throughout.  The text is a prayer to a deranged God, the pentitent doomed to eternal self-torture.  In theory, this could have been adapted to a scena of great dramatic presence. But it's very much a "masculine" poem, so why set it for soprano?  Perhaps some sopranos could make it suitably demonic, but not Christina Gansch, who was under strain, unable to compete with the orchestra.

Rather more convincing, Glanert's Weites Land ('Musik mit Brahms' for orchestra) . "Immediately recognizable points of departure are the first four measures of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony with its characteristic alternation of a descending third and ascending sixth. Both intervals are woven into the texture time and again, until the surprising conclusion" wrote a German critic at its premiere in 2014.  Again we have Glanert's feel for heady contrast, here effective because it's not tied to text but to abstract atmosphere: Perhaps a sense of wide, open horizons, where land meets sea and sky?

Bychkov and the BBC SO have done loads of Mahler over the years, separately and together, so it could be taken as given that this would be a decent Mahler 4. It didn't, of course, reach the heights of Bernard Haitink's Mahler 4 with the BBC SO earlier this year at the Barbican - please read my review here - but perhaps nothing could. Haitink's in an altogther more elevated league. So I wasn't too bothered and enjoyed the performance well enough, though I could not understand why some of the Royal Albert Hall audience needed to clap wildly between each movement - something to do with the hands when the mind's not engaged.  Wisely Bychkov didn't allow even the shortest break between the third and final movements, and held his hands aloft for the longest time at the very end, sending a clear message to the audience : pay attention!  A decent reading, if nothing very memorable. Glanert was the real reason for this Prom, but Mahler sells, especially Mahler 4 which many still think is "sunny" and light.  But, as with Haitink's M4, the performance was let down by the singing. Gansch is very young and not all that experienced, which is not necessarily a bad thing, if you realize that the text describes a child's vision of heaven.  There are many different ways of interpreting and perfoming this part : child-like delicacy, sensual enjoyment, melancholy mixed with joy. But it does need a singer who can put more into it. Many more senior singers would think twice about singing Mahler 4 in the same programme as a demanding new work like Einsamkeit, but Gansch isn't yet well enough established to stand up to management pressure.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Otaka BBC NOW Huw Watkins and Rachmaninov

Tadaaki Otaka, photo: Masuhide Sato, courtesy Askonas Holt
Huw Watkins The Moon at the Proms, Tadaaki Otaka conducting BBC National Orchestra of Wales, tyhe BBC National Chorus of Wales and the Philhamonia Voices.  It's real music, thank goodness, not made-to-order to fit BBC obsessions with non-musical targets. To prepare, Tōru Takemitsu's Twill by Twilight, a very good choice since it worked  with Watkins’s The Moon.  The programme, however, didn't at first seem to cohere. The Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor and Rachmaninov's The Bells on the surface bear little relation to the refined sensibility of Takemitsu and Watkins, but Otaka's performance showed why the two parts combined : bell-like sounds, obviously, but also more, of which, please read below.
Watkins is so well known that he hardly needs an introduction. And neither does Takemitsu, revered by many, including Oliver Knussen. Watkins has established a strong track record, as performer as well as composer.  Read his bio here from Schott,  his publishers. The Moon is a new venture in the sense that he's done lots of work for orchestra and chamber ensemble, but relatively little large scale work for chorus and orchestra. "Inspired by the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing this year, my
new work for chorus and orchestra uses favourite poems by Percy B.
Shelley, Philip Larkin and Walt Whitman to explore the sense of wonder we identify with the moon and space. The piece tries to capture our experience of viewing the moon from Earth, and is also somehow about looking back at us here on Earth from above
."  Bright, face-moving rivulets of sound - winds used to good effect - , introduce and illuminate the first choral section, where text is set so the words are occluded, in darkness, so to speak, suggesting mysteries. If the setting also evokes ancient hymnal, that, too, is reasonable : man has always revered, and feared, the unknown. I liked the way the highest voices in the choir "took off", so to speak, ascending over the mass. In the central orchestral interlude, bell-like percussion  and clear-toned winds created atmosphere, but there's more to this piece than impressionism. Forceful, dominant chords suggest the power of invisible forces - the moon may be distant and small but it controls the tides of the oceans on Earth. The music waxes and wanes, pulsating with a steady flow.  Zig zag figures (strings) dart : liveliness against a darker background. The instrumentation includes celeste, glockenspiel, and organ, for deeper resonance.  An attractive part for piccolo!  The chorus returned, in full force, before subsiding, slowly to hushed silence. As the voices faded, shimmering, magical bell-like sounds animate the orchestra. An affirmative coda - voices and full throated orchestra, in union.
In Rachmaninov's The Bells op 35, it's not just bells that ring out.  Oleg Dolgov's tenor rang out, magnificently, immediately establishing that the piece is about human beings, at different phases of life, the bells ringing out changes.  Natalya Romaniw (not Romanov, as the BBC had her down) is actually Welsh. She's regal, though not royal, and  a good choice for Otaka and the BBC NOW.  I have no idea how fluent her Russian is, but she sang with great clarity : a strong, operatic performance, bringing out the undercurrents of heroism that infuse the piece, which possibly meant more to Rachmaninov and his appreciation of Russian history than it might have to the poet Edgar Allen Poe. The third movement, The Loud Alarm Bells with its rousing choruses and high drama belong to a distinctly Russian sensibility.  In the last movement, the bells tolled with funereal gloom, for now the bells are iron, mournful and full of portent. Iurii Samoilov's baritone had the near-bass timbre this section needs to come over well.  The BBC NOW didn't need to have a "Russian" sound, Otaka drawing from his players brighter and more magical, even fairy tale lightness, which does, in fact, connect to Russian genres much better than heavy handed noise for its own sake. hence the connection between Rachmaninov, Takemitsu and Huw Watkins!  And so to the fantasy world of Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor.


Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Dalia Stasevska Prom : Weinberg Cello Concerto

Dalia Stasevka (photo Jarmo Katila, Harrison Parrott)

Prom 25 for Dalia Stasevska and for Mieczysław Weinberg's Concerto for cello and orchestra op 43 (1948, revised 1956), with soloist Sol Gabetta.  Weinberg's Cello Concerto is fairly well known, performed very early on by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and  Mstislav Rostropovich.  That it's new to the Proms is in itself no big deal. Weinberg's music is almost culty these days, but has often recieved performances that are more worthy than worthwhile, but this performance was good. More below and pleasee read my piece on the outstanding Weinberg Symphony no 21 "Kaddish" with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica HERE.  

Dalia Stasevska was recently appointed the next Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, her first appearances with them at the Barbican Hall in October this year and in April 2020.  That's a very high profile appointment indeed, and a leap upwards from what she's done to date, so a lot was hanging on this Proms debut.  Given that Jean Sibelius Karelia Suite op 11 (1893) is so stirring that it should be a surefire success, I was probably expecting too much. This was a little too  routine, the Alla Marcia a little tentative. Perhaps the best of Stasevska is yet to come. 

On to Weinberg's Cello Concerto . I'm not sure why Stasevska (at least in the broadcast interview) needs to justify this by saying "it's not at all avant gardist". It wasn't meant to be, and what's wrong with liking the piece on its own terms ?  The long first movement is ruminative, its pace funereal, with a steady tread.  Above this background, Gabetta's cello weaves a plaintive line that seems to stretch into space before descending into darker undercurrents. The orchestra picks up the "searching" expansive theme, but the cello continues, as if determined to do its own thing. In the moderato, the tension between cello and orchestra was more marked, though again the cello distances itself from the mass : Gabetta's instrument has character ! The first allegro is marked by angularities in the orchestral part which grow increasingly dominant, but from which the cello  remains defiant - rapid fire lines that spring ahead, until, towards the end, it takes precedence again, with an almost lyrical melody, possibly tinged with melancholy : Gabetta's bowing in the final moment is richly resonant, increasiungly refined and ultimately transcedant.  As in so much Weinberg, lyricism is more than lyricism: context is never far away.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 6 in B minor, 'Pathétique' is, like Sibelius Karelia Suite, another certain crowd pleaser.  If anything, we've heard it so often that  it would be more than unusual if this performance had been a revelation, but this was pleasant enough for a Proms outing. 

Monday, 5 August 2019

John Storgårds Modern Impressionism - Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Tarkiainen

John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Prom 22, with Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Outi Tarkiainen's Midnight Sun Variations. Storgårds kept up standards at the BBC PO during a  fallow period under Juanjo Mena, so it was a bit of a surprise to see he didn't get get named Chief Conductor. Fortunately, Omer Meir Wellber is pretty good, as his Haydn Creation Prom last week demonstated - I loved its flair ! Storgårds remains Chief Guest at the BBC PO. The orchestra was sounding very polished and alert.  

A good Rachmaninov Isle of the Dead. Though this piece is often described as "romantic" it's more Romantic, in the sense that it connects to concepts of Romanticism - symbolism, the unconscious, alternative reality.  Rachmaninov knew the series of illustrations by Arnold  Böcklin, made in the 1880's , depicting an island rising from the sea. Its cliffs are so steep that nothing quite like this can exist in nature : Landscape painting, this is not, by any means.  This is the Island of the Dead, perhaps on the river of Lethe, as in ancient myth, through which the dead are rowed b y a mystery boatman.  The island is uninhabited : the white shrouded figure is en route to the Underworld.  Böcklin’s image was inspired by a dream. Any Freudian will note : images of death, and rebirth together, and a sense of inescapable doom. Storgårds's approach emphasized the mood of strange foreboding.  In the quiet rhythms, one might imagine oars, steadily making their way through the waters,  and in the sudden swell of the strings, the cliffs looming above, the descending figures a reminder that life is fragile.  Though the surfaces in the rock like, Storgårds focussed on the shifting textures rather than the architecture, creating the piece as an almost-impressionistic wash of colours and strange harmonies. It's worth remembering that Rachmaninov was a contemporary of Claude Debussy and of Stravinsky. 

In the context of this particular Prom, though, the connections included Sibelius, particularly his Symphony no 4, with its brooding darkness. After the previous night's all-Sibelius Prom (please read more here) Storgårds conducted the London premiere of Outi Tarkiainen's Midnight Sun Variations. The publishers Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen quotes the composer that the work is "about the light in the arctic summer night, when the northern sky above the Arctic Circle reflects a rich spectrum of infinitely-nuanced hues that, as autumn draws near, are once again veiled in darkness; when Europe’s biggest and most unpolluted wildernesses, the tundra and dense coniferous forests mystified by Jean Sibelius in his last large-scale work, Tapiola (1926), are bathed in countless shades of light. The work begins with a sparkling ray of sunshine: the orchestra radiates and rises, playfully traces its round and goes back to the beginning again. Solitary wind solos soar above the orchestra, softly proclaiming the peace of the summer night to answering sighs from a horn. A new beginning finally emerges in the strings: a chord beating with rugged primitive force that fills the whole space with its warmth. This sets off a pulse of constantly remixing chords that ultimately fires the whole orchestra into action, until the strings break away, ascend to the heights and impart maybe the most important message of all". 

Although it's inspired by landscape, this is as much inner landscape as external. I liked this piece because it works as music on its own terms, from within, rather than created from preconceived concepts.  Undulating swathes of sound, evoking spatial distance, layers of detail, providing texture and colour.  I thought  of Kaija Saariaho, but Tarkiainen's palette is closer to the natural colours of Lapland, than to Paris.  Life there must be simpler and more down to earth.  The swathes of sound swirl, evoking perhaps a sense of parallel reality, where past and present, seen and unseen might co-exist.  At eleven minutes Midnight Sun Variations does not outstay its welcome, a mistake some composers make when they're trying too hard. I like this spareness,like the fragility of life in a tough climate. A surprisingly good companion for Rachmaninov  Isle of the Dead

Shostakovich's Symphony No 11 in G minor 'The Year 1905' is a public piece, which won Shostakovich the Lenin Prize. The subject matter
is unashamedly patriotic, commemorating the December Revolution which was suppressed but entered the political mythology of that Soviet State.
There's nothing in principle wrong with propaganda music, but much of the appeal of this symphony lies in the way it plays on emotions to whip up excitement,  and the avoidance of doubt.  With its vivid images, it feels like the soundtrack for a movie.  on closer listening, though, it's as much atmospheric as belligerent. Storgårds approaches it as a tone poem, emphasizes the subtler aspects. Muffled drums, long, flowing lines that could be anything - gunsmoke, the earth,  the Russian "soul", whatever, but effective on purely musical terms. Impressionism on a grand scale . A perceptive approach, different from the technicolor extremes some still associate with Shostakovich, but ultimately more rewarding. 

Sunday, 4 August 2019

All Sibelius Prom, but different - Pekka Kuusisto, Dausgaard

A very different Prom 20 featuring Jean Sibelius with Pekka Kuusisto, Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.  Not the famous Sibelius Symphony no 5 op 82, but the first version, from 1915, in four movements. The first performance was a success, but Sibelius, ever his own sternest critic, wasn't satisfied and continued to revise it until 1919. During the 1980's and 90's, research into Sibelius's original source materials made it possible to reconstruct a performing version of this early score, based on orchestral parts and notes from the period. The premiere recording was made in 1995 with Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra. Over the years, this version has come to be appreciated for its own sake, not just as a novelty, but for its originality. Thomas Dausgaard's approach was convincing, bringing out the exploratory character of the piece, acknowledging that, for Sibelius, the work had a long genesis. Moreover, Dausgaard framed this performance in context, pairing the symphony with the Violin Concerto, and rather more unusually with Finnish folk music and orchestrated versions of folk tunes.   The Prom sold out fast on the strength of the symphony's popularity, (and Kuusisto's charisma) but in many ways it's more interesting to hear how the composer's
creative processes develop.

The first moments of Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor op 47 emerged, organically,  from the folk songs that went before  (kantele, harmonium and three voices), Kuusisto's violin singing, as if were the embodiment of some ancient spiritual force. How plaintive it sounded, almost on its own, defining theme with great assurance, as if in defiance of the orchestra until the strings enter en masse.  The many variations of tempo and direction test the soloist, but Kuusisto's fluency showed how well the piece flows The reiterations towards the end of the allegro moderato were so vibrant that the orchestra seemed carried along with its energy. A particularly  moving second movement enhanced the third. Yet again,  Kuusisto managed to balance poise with flamboyance : his feel for Sibelius is deeply intuitive, bringing out the quirky originality which made his music so distinctive.  Kuusisto could not do boring, even if he tried.  A pity that on the broadcast, the announcer broke into hysterics, shouting loudly before the music really ended. Completely destructive. Send this one to cover football.

A set of orchestrated songs based on themes by Sibelius provided a prologue to Sibelius Symphony no 5.  Not "traditional" but tradition adapting modern art music.  In this 1915 version of the symphony, the "stepping impulse" and "rocking impulse" described by Eric Tawaststjerna give thrust to the first movement, this character being retained in the final version, though the details are less defined, the second movemnt, a scherzo, not yet integrated.  On the other hand, this emphasizes the experimental nature of this version, still germinating in the composer's imagination.  The "stepping impulse" makes emotionalas well as musical sense : tiptoes into the unknown, so to speak.  The strong chords that follow all the more expansive and alluring.  When I was a kid, I visualized a tiny figure creeping into strange, dark territory, getting bolder and braver.  Thus is achieved the final movement, the Allegro commodo section sublime "with the wind in its sails", as I used to think. Another flurry of "stepping impulse", Sibelius in full flow, rushing forwards. The Largamente molto section in this version is slightly more tentative but Dausgaard kept the overall thrust, so when its destination is acheived, it felt natural.   

Friday, 2 August 2019

Filial Piety - The Philosophy Song

In these divided times when it feels like the world is in a tailspin of self destruction, everyone screaming at everyone else, I'm revisiting other  times of upheaval. Tian Lun (天倫} aka The Song of China, or The Heavens) was made in Shanghai in 1935, but as cinema, it's old fashioned, even for its times. But that's part of its charm. It's a silent movie with recorded soundtrack - no dialoque, just solo Chinese instruments with the odd live sound effect. The music was written for the film by Huang Tsu (黄自) (1904-1938), born in Shanghai, who studied western composition at Yale. In the mid 1920's he wrote In Memoriam, the first large scale orchestral piece by a Chinese composer.  He also set up the first all-Chinese orchestra in Shanghai in 1935,  professional orchestras formerly having been dominated by foreigners, who sometimes weren't academically trained.  Most films in China were made exclusively by Chinese for Chinese audiences, but the producers of this film put special emphasis on this and mentioned it in the English language intertitles. The orchestra used was the Wei-chung-lo Orchestra, an early Chinese-instrument orchestra.  This is interesting, because it shows how different intrumental colours and changing rhythms can be used to highlight the action, yet still return to the song theme from time to time.

As so often in the progressive years after the May Fourth Movement, intellectuals and artists worked closely together on the principle that modernization and reform could be achieved through education which included popular entertainment. Huang's music for this film was so iconic that it has lived on, in many incarnations. It's called The Philosophy Song (天倫歌) made famous in a contemprary recording by Lang Yixiu (郎毓秀)(1918-2012).  Enjoy the video below ! (photos are of a different writer of the period and his descendants)   The "philosophy" here means the philosophy expressed in the film. Basic Confucian values - "Grant all children a place in your heart and regard aged as your own" : Values that should shape public life and governance as well as family relationships. "For more than three thousand years" the introduction states, "filial piety has remained the dominant force in China's history and culture".  That's why the Communists hated Confucian thinking,  and many now hate those values, too, but when applied correctly, they still remind us that humilty and basic human kindness matter in this world.

In the opening scene an old herdsman attends his goats in the countryside. Cut to the 1890's in South China, where a rich young dude, who's been abroad, is rushing home on a stallion. Just in time, he gets to his father's deathbed. "May your children live to honour you as you have honoured me", says the old man. "If children must travel, they should travel towards their parents" (ie towards virtue),  Fast forward to the 1920's. The son, played by Zheng Junli (鄭君里), who remained a famous star,  and his wife have grown old, but they're still looking after babies - this time, their grandson, whose parents are too busy partying and going out.  Photo above shows the grandson reading to grandfather - they're very close. Reminds me so much of my own father and my son, which is why I needed to watch the movie again  The little lad likes playing in the fields, making music with a bamboo flute, as the goats gambol around him. The image is universal, though he's not a goatherd, and it shows how the boy connects to society.

Grandfather's big birthday comes up, so the family celebrate with a banquet, "I know you don't like ostentation" says the worldly wise son, "but if we impress guests, it'll help us get ahead". Grandad's not fooled : he knows it will be an excuse for drinking, gambling and waste.  Sure enough, a city guest spots grandad's youngest daughter, who's all dressed up for the occasion, and attempts to seduce her.  In honour of his own father's birthday, Grandfather has set up an orphanage, where he and his wife personally help look after the kids.   The worldly son and his wife head off to Shanghai, taking the grandson. Grandfather's youngest daughter pines for her boyfriend and wants to elope to the city. Then Grandfather becomes ill, not expected to survive.  The kids in the orphanage stand vigil.  But lo! Grandson, now an upright young man, returns, and Grandfather is restored. The school bell rings and the old man tells the kids how blessed he's been to see so many of them grow iup, study and make something of their lives. "But now I am old, I can serve you no longer". As The Philosophy Song starts out, the old man announces that Grandson is taking on the mission. Profligate Son, daughter in law and youngest daughter (now married with a kid of her own), have returned to the countryside. Forgiveness is irrelevant : Love is what brings the family together.  Sure, there's lots wrong with filial values but without kindness, we're nothing.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Sandrine Piau Si j'ai aimé - Orchestrated Mélodie

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j'ai aimé. an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song.  Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also
Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.  Sponsored by Palazetto Bru Zane, Alpha Classics produced the ground breaking Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestre with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis (please read more here) which has been described as the "opening of a Pandora's box ......(on) dozens, if not hundreds, of mélodies sublimely arrayed in sparkling orchestral colours (which) were slumbering on library shelves".

These mélodies reflect the renaissance of French poetry in the Romantic period, and of contemporary poets like Hugo, Gautier, Banville, Régnier and Verlaine.  The enhancement of verse by music created a new genre, taking art song from the confines of private salons to the concert hall.  Although grand opéra took centre stage, many composers found, in mélodie an expression of more subtle sensibility.  Given the predominance of grand opéra and of singers trained in that tradition, the vocal parts are more elaborate than they would be in a more inward form like German Lieder, but are exqusitely refined. These settings focus on voice, eschewing brass and percussion. "But how many nuances these composers coud obtain from this palette", writes Hélène Cao in her notes. "There is no oboe in Aimons-nous (Saint-Saëns) or Ce que dit le silence (Guilmant) .....the arpeggios of Saint-Saëns' Extase are provided by the harp, thus preserving the lightness of a pianistic texture that would have been weighed down by the use of bowed strings". Indeed, the harp is a distinctive feature in many of these mélodies, more lustrous and liquid,  closer to the human voice, and particularly to the female voice.

The delicacy of Piau's timbre in Saint-Saëns' Extase (Victor Hugo) is exquisite, almost trembling with ecstasy, the moment of intimacy in the text living vividly on in memory.  her vouce is agile, capturing the fluttering fragility in Papillons (Renée de Léché) where a pair of flutes duet, darker winds and strings adding texture.  The song ends abruptly, for butterflies die once the summer is over.  In Charles Bordes's Promenade matinale (Paul Verlaine) , the pace is leisurely, evoking a stroll in the morning sunshine. A horn is heard, illustrating "un chemin de gazonque bordant devieux aulnes", introducing shade, for the dreamer has lost the one he or she had loved. This connects neatly with the well-known Berlioz Au cimetière from Les nuits d'été.  In Jules Massenet's Le Poète et Le Fantôme, to an anonymous text, the vocal line stretches languidly, as the poet addresses a phantom, the soul of the poet's smiles, ie a memory of the past.  The voice of the harp mirroring the voice of the singer. The poem is strophic, its repeating patterns suggesting there will be no resolution.  Gabriel Pierné's Chanson d'autrefois, for chamber ensemble, is like a folk air, being based on the composer's set of childrens's piece Album pour mes petits amis. Théodore Dubois' Si j'ai parlé j'ai aimé (Henri de Régnier) is poised, "c'est ton ombre que je cherche". 

The upbeat rhythms of Berlioz's Villanelle from Les nuits d'été  mark a transition from songs of lost love to songs of desire and seduction. Théodore Dubois' Promenade à l'etang (Albert Semain) alternates restraint with exuberant outbursts, intensifying the tension of passion, the pond representing, perhaps, hidden depths. More butterflies in Louis Vierne's Beaux papillons blancs from Trois Mélodies op 11, this time fluttering happily in warm breezes, the vocal line circulating smoothly as the strings dance and sparkle.  In contrast, the sensuous promise of  Henry Duparc's Aux étoiles where violin and flute soar over a background of dark timbred strings. In Alexandre Guilmant's Ce que dit le silence (Charles Barthélemy), the contrast lies between the sweeping vocal part and the understated orchestral line with its quiet interjections. "Sans bruit, nous permet d'écouter ce que dit le silence". 

The repose of Saint-Saëns Aimons-nous (Théodore de Banville) merges into the serenity of Massenet's Valse très lente,  originally for piano, here scored for lyrical winds and strings. Saint-Saëns'  L'Enlèvement (Hugo) was written when the composer was only 13 years of age, but the woodwind melody has finesse. The grave movement from Benjamin Godard's Symphonie gothique op 23 is followed by the famous Plaisir d'amour, in a transcription by Hector Berlioz after a romance from the 1780's by Jean-Paul-Ègide Martini.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Joyous Messiaen From the Canyons to the Stars.... Oramo, BBCSO

Messiaen in Bryce Canyon

Prom 13, Olivier Messiaen Des canyons aux étoiles... (From the Canyons to the Stars...). Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. One day, I want to hear this outdoors, with the sky above,  surrounded by endless horizons. Sure, the sound quality wouldn't please nit-picking audiophiles, but those who love music might understand.  As the composer himself observed, when you are in a canyon, the only way to look is upwards, towards the stars.  In Paris, he spent much of his time in Saint-Sulpice, cramped up high above the nave in the organ loft.  In Bryce Canyon, Utah, he experienced a “cathedral” of another kind, where the vast stone walls of the canyon rose up like walls, enclosing space, but opened, roofless, to the skies. Direct communion with the universe and all its wonders!  Messiaen was a visionary, for whom all creation was a celebration of a God who made the universe and  its wonders.  From the Canyons to the stars.... is Messiaen's response, creating in music a panorama of sounds, textures and colours.

Messiaen's"canyon", isn't just a literal depiction of landcape, but a visionary communion with creation and its Creator. This is no minor achievement. From the Canyons to the Stars..... is nearly two hours long, a series of 12 individual sections, but together they form an epic journey.  Just as the colours in a landscape change with changes in natural light, the traverse is a reflection of the passage of time. "Man hasn’t been on this earth that long”, Messiaen said. "Before us there were prehistoric monsters, but in between there were birds". And before birds and dinosaurs, the geology of the Earth itself. The very character of From the Canyons to the stars.... is shaped by these concepts. The orchestra isn't huge. but each instrument is used for maximum effect. The smallest instrument in the orchestra, the piccolo, plays an important role, just as the smallest bird in a dawn chorus can be heard distinctively.

The range, too, is eclectic. Messiaen even created a new instrument, the geosphere, where actual rocks are placed in a flat drum  and shaken, the earth thus employed to make "earth sounds" in a concert hall environment. Earth sounds everywhere-the wind machine, the thunderboard,  tubular bells which suggest the flow of water, wooden blocks beaten together.  Sections for orchestra are balanced with sections for solo instruments: Nicolas Hodges (piano), Martin Owen (horn), David Hockings and Alex Neal, (xylorimba and glockenspiel). These unite the instrumental logic. The piano is a percussion instrument, the horn's sounds created by human breathing, the xylomarimba a percussion instrument whose sounds reverberate through tubes,like lungs, the glockenspiel a fragile predecessor of the piano. From the Canyons to the stars.... is big because its subject is big, but the foundations are strong, and logical. 

In the first part, starting with Le Désert the parameters are set out.  The brass carved out firm shapes, the piano (possibly representing man), was clearly defined, the sounds of the landscape swirling around.  Rhythms darted at odd angles, but were purposeful. Messiaen observed how birds move on the ground, confounding predators. Sometimes they creep quietly on the ground, but sudden fly off unpredictably. That’s how they survive. Thus the jerky changes of direction, and sudden leaps from activity to silence, large blocks juxtaposed against fast-flying fragments. Oramo handled the shape well, bringing out the originality that is so fundamental to Messiaen performance practice.  He has a good feel for the zany, quirky character in this music. His Turangalîla-Symphonie was wonderful because he doesn't tame the wildness. (Please read Sublimated sex in theTurangalila Symphony here).  He also gets the "technicolor" moments in Messiaen, as the climaxes in this performance showed.  Cedar Breaks et le don de craint ended with style, and Zion Park et la cité céleste.  even more expansive, concluded with such élan that it was clear what Messiaen meant : the glories of nature are a foretaste of the glories of Heaven.

Nicolas Hodges' solos captured the spirit,too. For a moment, time seemed to stand still, while the piano does a “display dance” like a bird showing off its plumage. Martin Owen’s horn seemed to be exploring the vast cavern of the Royal Albert Hall, repeating itself more quietly, as if from a distance. The glockenspiel and xylomarimba solos were expressive, like birds or animals from cover in the landscape of the wider percussion, treasured all the more because their appearances are so fleeting.

Albert Hall photos: Roger Thomas/Messiaen in Bryce Canyon: Yvonne Loriod

Thursday, 25 July 2019

No surprise ! Edward Gardner to head London Philharmonic Orchestra

No surprise ! Edward Gardner  confirmed as Chief at the London Philharmonic, replacing Vladimir Jurowski.  Welcome, though not "news", since it was only a question of time before Gardner found a new home in the UK.  Gardner has long been the Great Hope of British conducting, often compared to Simon Rattle.  He flirts like a star, too. It's part of the job! That's charisma.  He's not called "Sexy Ed" for nothing. But all that wouldn't matter, since he is an extremely good conductor and motivator.  He's done wonders for the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, who are an excellent orchestra, but he's put them firmly onto the international map.  Gardner's career has implications for the British music scene as a whole.  His background is solidly British, and he's done a lot of British repertoire, old and new. In fact, the first time I heard him conduct orchestral repertoire, in 2005, he conducted Walton's Symphony no 1, Sibelius and Julian Anderson.  Gardner's conducted the LPO before, and the CBSO, and the BBCSO and much else, and has recorded extensively, mainly for Chandos.  He was also Music Director at the English National Orchestra for nearly ten years. That, too, is a factor in his appointment because the LPO is the resident orchestra at the Glyndebourne Festival, where they do opera.  He was also chief of Glyndebourne on Tour before he joined the ENO. The LPO has done lots of opera unstaged, so he fits the bill.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Gloriously idiomatic ! Jakub Hrůša, Bamberg Symphoniker - Dvořák,Smetana Má vlast

Jakub Hrůša, Bmberger Symphoniker.  photo: Roger Thonas

The real First Night of the Proms 2019, for music lovers, Prom 2 with the Bamberger Symphoniker (Bamberg Symphonic Orchestra) conducted by Jakub Hrůša in Antonín Dvořák Violin concerto in A minor op 53 (1883), soloist Joshua Bell, and Bedřich Smetana Má vlastAt the start of this year's Prague Spring Festival,  always opened with Má vlast - Hrůša led the Bambergers in a rousing performance at the Smetana Hall. Not all Má vlast have been performed on happy occasions.  (Please read more here). If troubled times loom over Europe again, we need to honour the power of music to express national identity in a healthy, non-belligerent form.  

"Bohemian Rhapsody" is a silly title, which trivializes the strong-minded individualism that has shaped Czech history and music. Dvořák's Violin concerto doesn't follow rules. An emphatic introduction from the orchestra, from which the soloist almost immediately takes equal command. Dvořák's themes are strongly defined - nothing timid here. The freedom of the violin line is thus built on firm foundations. The themes are endlessly varied, always inventive, always adventurous, The warmth of Bell's tone enhanced the sense of freshness. Thus the dumka theme in the Adagio felt  poignant, a reflection perhaps on things past, (complete with the calls of hunting horns), before the Finale, in which the energy of the first movement returned resurgent. Hrůša, the Bambergers and Bell captured the sense of perpetual momentum that so often surfaces in Dvořák and, indeed, much music influenced by folk idioms, shaped as they are by the change of seasons on rural life, and the sturdiness of peasant character.  Renewal, regrowth - might this be what Dvořák was "really" writing about ?

The Royal Albert Hall is far larger than the Smetana Hall in Prague, but this added dimensuon to the rich, dark timbre that's often been associated with the Bamberger Symphoniker. In his three years at the helm, Hrůša has restored the Bamberger's distinctive style. How wonderful it is to hear such inspirational, committed musicianship.  Every player is of such a high standard that even small details give pleasure. Hrůša sets the tone straight away with Vyšehrad, the bedrock on which Má vlast is built. This refers to the castle on an outcrop on the river, reputedly the original settlement of the Bohemian people. The harps, positioned in pair on opposite sides of the orchestra, to emphasize their different functions, sounded beautifully liquid, suggesting the flow of the river, the source of fertility and life. Their music also references the instrument of an ancient bard who, in legend, played on the river's edge.  As the pace picks up, the river reaches full flow, the Bambergers responding to Hrůša, playing with idiomatic ebullience. Pure-toned, rustling strings,  surging torrents in the orchestra, played almost at breakneck speed, but meticulously defined.

Though each of the six symphonic poems that form Má vlast are unique, Hrůša never let slip the sense of architecture that is essential for coherent performance.  In Vlatava, the flow is lighter, more transparent, suggesting that the river (for which read, the nation) is constantly refreshed from mountain sources, growing in strength and volume as they pass through the land. Horns are heard, evoking forests, mountains, a population living connected to Nature. forests. The suggestions of dance created a sense of circular, swirling movement.  Hrůša understands the purpose behind the turbulence Smetana builds into this music: dance is energy, a metaphor for life and growth. The section Šárka is mythic and Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia's Woods and Fields) is descriptive, but in musical terms these serve to enrich the saga, much in the way that a river is fed from different streams and different sources.

In Tábor and Blaník, the depth of the Bamberg sound truly pays off.  The Bambergers may not be a Czech orchestra but with Hrůša, they understand what Má vlast means and why it matters, better than some. Tábor was a Hussite fortress, under siege and eventually defeated in violent massacres.  Thus the quiet, tense introduction, developed through brass and timpani, which grows bolder as the hymn emerges.  This is the Hussite anthem Ktož jsú boží bojovníci (Ye Who Are Warriors of God).  (Please read more here about Hrůša's perceptive views on the way the Hussite hymn has influenced Bohemian music ).  Massive, angular chords loom upwards, suggesting danger, and determined defiance.  The rocky fastness of Vyšehrad again, now called on in more danergous times. The Hussites may be no more, yet their spirit, like the spirit of the bard and of Šárka, remains steadfast.

As Tábor draws to a close, quieter chords glow, like embers in ash.  The buzz of strings and celli, intensified the sense of urgency,  rushing "footsteps" and angular chords, suggesting a population in upheaval, the horn and military pipes suggestions of war. 

In Blaník, there is a reference to St Wenceslaus, patron saint of Bohemia, who lived long before the Hussites, whom legend says. will return to save the nation in its hour of need.  Smetana was writing at a time when the Hapsburgs ruled: not quite as extreme asituation as 1938, 1948 or 1968, but still at a time of occupation.  Thus the riotous, lively finale suggests the spirit of freedom the river and its history represent will live again, joyful and revitalized. At the end, Hrůša shapes the majestic main theme again, so vividly that it seems that the spirit of the fortress in Vyšehrad stands eternally behind the Czech people, and indeed, all people who care about freedom and heritage. 
A demanding programme, and one which required almost superhuman stamina from the players as well as from the audience. But so worthwhile! Two encores, the Polka and the Furiant from Smetana's The Bartered Bride.  More circular dances ! not just because they're fun, but because they, too, show  the source of vigour from which Smetana drew inspiration.  This gloriously idiomatic  Prom 2 with Hrůša and the Bambergers is one that will live on in memory. 


Friday, 19 July 2019

Undemanding First Night of the Proms 2019

First Night of the BBC Proms 2019 ! The programme might have been a challenging start to the season - Antonín Dvořák The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leos Janáček Glagolitic Mass, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Chorus plus soloists, conducted by Karina Canellakis.  To kick off, a premiere by Zosha di Castri Long is the journey - short is the memory.
Dvořák's The Golden Spinning Wheel is a tale of ghosts and gruesome murder. A king goes hunting in the woods and meets a peasant girl, Dornička and wants to marry her.  Her stepmother and stepsister chop the girl to pieces, but a magician finds her remains. He creates a golden spinning wheel, whose song alerts the king to what's happened.  Dvořák's symphonic poem is based on a collection of Bohemian folk ballads by Karol Jaromir Erben, but the tale itself is ancient, with many variants. Think Brentano and von Arnim Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Mahler's Das klagende Lied, or Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande or even CinderellaDvořák's setting is remarkably graphic, almost cinematic. The king is represented by hunting horns and vigorous upbeat rhythms, Dornička by plaintive winds.  As the magician puts Dornička's bits together, her music comes to life again, high strings sparkling and lyrical. Lots of detail - "royal" trumpets, turbulent figures spinning (literally), stirring up alarm, the conclusion both serene and impudent.  There's a lot more to it than "dreamy" ! Because The Golden Spinning Wheel is so dramatic, it ought to be almost foolproof in performance.  The BBC Symphony Orchestra should know it, since they've done it before. When it's done well, it glows with warmth and vibrant vigour - Dornička, a force of Nature, cannot be extinguished.  Even in a fairly underpowered performance such as this one, its vivacity can't be dimmed.  Fortunately, it's new to the Proms, so something of its spirit might reach out to audiences who'd like to get to know it better. (well worth seeking out good performances)

Janáček's Glagolitic Mass has been done many times at the Proms, so whoever planned this programming might think it's OK to repeat the formula. At the Proms in recent years,  we've heard Boulez, Gergiev and Bělohlávek - all very different, each with something to say.  When Bělohlávek did it on the First Night of the Proms 2011, the performance was so intense that it seemed as if the roof might lift off the Royal Albert Hall. A pertinent observation, since "Glagolitic" masses were held in the open air, with trees instead of stone as buttresses, allowing large communities to come together. Janácek said: "My cathedral " was “the enormous grandeur of mountains beyond which stretched the open sky…...the scent of moist forests my incense”. Hence the idea of freedom and liberation, which is closer to Janácek's intentions than to a religious interpretation.  If anything, the Glagolitic Mass represents a tradition fiercely independent from the mainstream. The Glagolitic script dates from the 8th century, long before the Hapsburgs consolidated their grip on Bohemia, so it isn't about the Church so much as Janáček's faith in secular and national Resurrection.  Glagolitic Masses can be craggy, earthy, ferocious, almost anything but not lifeless.

With the forces on hand this should, in theory, have been a good performance. The BBC SO, the BBC Singers and BBC Chorus know the piece, and the soloists, Asmik Grigorian, Jennifer Johnston, Ladislav Elgr, and Jan Martiník - are all good, Martiník in particular for this repertoire.  Grigorian was another reason I was so keen to hear this - she was a sensational Salomé with Welser-Möst in Salzburg (read more HERE). But a performance needs to be more than a sum of its components.  The Úvod held together, though it's more impressive as a statement of intent, like the foundation stone of a great edifice.  The Kyrie can be overwhelming, the large chorus intoning the cries "Gospodi pomiluj!".  Elgr and Martiník's voices rang out, like prophets from the ancient past. Janáček referenced  the missionaries Cyril and Methodius, who brought Christianity to Slavic lands.  He also wrote : "I the soprano solo a maiden angel, in the chorus our people. The candles are high fir trees in the wood, lit up by stars; and somewhere in the ritual see a vision of the princely St Wenceslas" Grigorian did not disappoint ! Peter Holder, at the organ, captured the right sense of zany energy. His Varhany sólo (Postludium) was electrifying.  In the Slava (Gloria) the massed voices were suitably hushed, capturing  a sense of mystery, and the Věruju (Credo) and Agneče Božij (Agnus Dei), gave all the soloists a chance to show what they're made of.  But where was the grand design ? What was the underlying thrust? The Intrada, which can be an emphatic outburst, felt like an after-thought.

Zosha di Castri Long is the journey - short is the memory filled the slot assigned to "new music" at the start of every Proms season.  But a premiere doesn't always mean original.  This could have been commissioned to tick all the BBC boxes - big forces, lots happening to look at and admire, but rather studied and self conscious. Interestingb hat the press, cued by BBC PR, made much of the "historic" occasion", minimizing the rest of the performance.  Given that BBC Proms policy now seems driven by non-music values, and marketing hype (excruciating presentation), this whole First Night of the Proms 2019 probably went down well with the suits and their target audience, but doesn't bode well for music in the longer term.