Classical Review: Prom 67 – Jansen, Escaich, Orchestre de Paris, Jarvi, Royal Albert Hall / Chamber Prom 8 – Bostridge, Kenny, Fretwork, Cadogan Hall


Begun during the Spanish Civil War and finished in the first weeks of the Second World War, Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto – ‘rather serious, I’m afraid’ was his wry comment - opens with a Beethovenian gesture on timpani after which the soloist asserts dominance by turning gentle somersaults high above the orchestra.

But when that soloist is the Dutch violinist Janine Jansen – possessor of a supremely refined line - the dominance becomes more like persuasion. Her performance brought out this work’s echoes of the Berg concerto for which it was a homage: each phrase was exquisitely calibrated, with the threnody of the Passacaglia suggesting a lament for the demise of the Transylvanian musicians whose swoops and slides she had celebrated in the Scherzo.

With Arvo Part’s “Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten” Parvo Jarvi and the Orchestre de Paris had already demonstrated their fastidious control of dynamics, but Saint-Saens’ “Organ” Symphony allowed them to do so again. Thierry Escaich was the organist, and although his role was mostly limited to providing a sonic foundation, his final letting-rip shook the real foundations.

Meanwhile Chamber Prom 8 fielded a dream team. With Dowland songs delivered by tenor Ian Bostridge, lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, and the viol consort Fretwork, what’s not to like? And Dowland’s star is currently rising, having been given a boost in the wider world by Sting’s lute-accompanied recordings. For Sting, at whose launch-recital Bostridge was seen politely applauding, Dowland was a musician for our times, ‘an alienated singer-songwriter’; for Fretwork’s leader Richard Boothby, Dowland is ‘up there with Purcell and Lennon and McCartney’.

Dowland’s lyrics may be condensed, but they have an emotional directness which Bostridge made his own. Sitting in the middle of the group, and singing as if chatting to friends, he followed all the cues in Dowland’s word-setting. Beginning with the agonised “Can she excuse my wrongs”, he went on to darken his tone for “Flow, my tears”, and to flatten the notes, as though broken by grief, in “Sorrow, stay”.

But when the music evoked the excitement of sex – “To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die” – he found the right register for that too. Kenny’s lute solos had an intimacy, and Fretwork’s sound a plangency, which ideally set off Bostridge’s art. After the first encore - Kenny’s transcription of a song from Britten’s underrated opera “Gloriana” - they did a second, clearly as keen to carry on, as we were for them to do so.