Royal Albert Hall, London
Classical review: Prom 26 - Oliver Knussen shows brilliance as both curator and conductor
Friday 02 August 2013
A concert curated and conducted by Oliver Knussen has as much interest as a new piece by this most reclusive and original of British composers. And Prom 26 – whose works he seems to have chosen because they reflect a fastidious control of detail equal to his own – allowed things which are not normally juxtaposed to shed fresh light on each other.
His opener was a work new to the Proms, Hans Werner Henze’s “Barcarola for large orchestra”. Henze had proposed a classical subtext – rowed across the Styx by Charon the ferryman, a dying man looks back over his life – but it needed no such factitious crutch, particularly given the way the BBC Symphony Orchestra played it under Knussen’s super-refined direction. Despite an underlying suggestion of ebb and flow, this was simply a graceful essay in texture and colour, late-Romantic in the best sense of the word.
Two of Stravinsky’s works for piano and orchestra formed the concert’s centre of gravity, with the American pianist Peter Serkin making his belated Proms debut. Composed in 1923, “Concerto for piano and wind instruments” radiates all the excitement of Modernism in Twenties Paris. The jazz influences of the outer movements sit side by side with a contrapuntalism recalling that of Bach in its bright clarity of articulation. And there’s no trace of the traditional opposition between soloist and orchestra: using instrumentation which complements the piano’s clean-cut sound, Stravinsky presents his material purely in terms of contrasting tone-colour.
Serkin brought a dry, clean touch to his dialogue with the orchestra, and more than a trace of 19th century opulence to his cadenza in the slow movement, but he was finally defeated by the Albert Hall’s notorious acoustic. Radio listeners would have got a much better sense of instrumental balance than those of us in the hall, where the piano was sometimes inaudible.
Returning to play “Movements” with a tiny ensemble which lacked horns and timpani but was blessed with a harp and celeste, Serkin displayed a watch-maker’s precision as he placed his notes in these pieces of musical pointillisme. Here the sonic balance was perfect, and the 76-year-old Stravinsky’s playfully atonal ruminations worked a treat; he’d certainly have approved of Serkin’s encore, which was Gershwin with a slow, expansive swing. Knussen rounded things off with a performance of Tippett’s Second Symphony which brought out both its singular beauty and its kinship with Stravinsky. In sum, an illuminating event.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 2 Optical illusion turns blue demon into brunette
- 3 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 4 Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to donate entire $32bn fortune to charity
- 5 Mystery sea creature - with 'fur' and 'a beak' - washes up on remote Russian beach, baffling scientists
Top Gear: Former co-host James May to present new BBC2 car show
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
'Dukes of Hazzard' pulled from screens by CBS as outcry over Confederate flag grows
Game of Thrones season 6: Release date, plots and dragons - everything we know so far
Game of Thrones: Leaked season six script introduces new 'red priestess' and hints at Daenerys Targaryen's next chapter
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture