Prom 55 and 56, classical reviews

Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

In the hands of its players, the sheng mouth-organ looks like a bunch of petrified icicles, and its sound has an appropriately icy purity.

Its origins lie in ancient imperial China, with the Japanese sho being a close relation; until recently it’s functioned as an ensemble instrument, but Unsuk Chin’s Su – being a symphonic concerto for it – is an indication of its new status as a solo instrument.

Wu Wei, who is the world’s top sheng player, was the soloist in this Proms premiere, and his finely-calibrated effects were beautifully complemented by the Seoul Philharmonic under Myung-Whun Chung. Unsuk Chin’s music is always understated and subtle, and this twenty-minute piece made a lovely showcase for Wu Wei’s evanescent talents. As a well-mannered conversation between two strikingly unequal partners, it ebbed and flowed like the sea, creating a watercolour world of ruminant suggestiveness.

Prom 56 saw Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra plus Choir give a rousing performance of Holst’s The Planets, a limpid one of Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces Op 16, and – with Alexander Toradze at the piano – make a bold attempt at realising Scriabine’s apocalyptic visions in Prometheus: The Poem of Fire.

Excellent playing in this latter work; shame about its concomitant ‘lighting design’, whose garish clumsiness was more redolent of a low-rent disco.