MUSIC / Dawn to dusk: Edward Seckerson on the CBSO and the BBC SO at the Proms

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The Independent Culture
FROM Mahlerian nostalgia through Bartok's percussive pianism and Debussy's hedonistic games - to Haydn, in waiting to outwit them all. It had to be a Simon Rattle programme. The alchemy of Friday's Prom was supremely well anticipated. You might not have thought so on paper, but these four great individualists made excellent bedfellows. Blumine, or 'floral offering', was the second movement of five in the original plan for Mahler's First Symphony. He was wise to take it out; it doesn't belong there. But it makes an effective curtain- raiser with its shy, tremulous strings slowly opening the door on enchantment. If the First Symphony is about beginnings, the dawn of youth, Blumine is about dusk, a nostalgic stroll in fading light. Its lovable trumpet tune is all heart, an old-fashioned lullaby at the end of the day. And Rattle conveyed all of that, testing credibility with rapt, near-inaudible pianissimi.

And then along came Peter Donohoe with Bartok's Second Piano concerto. Suddenly that trumpet was playing a very different tune, launching us into Bartok's coarse-cut baroque fanfares. I know of only two pianists who have entirely conquered this forbidding piece: Donohoe is one. He powers his way through the rhythmic thickets, the articulation keen and strong so that quarter and eighth notes ping home like steel rivets. The whirring scherzando at the heart of the slow movement was a case in point, the more startling for the concentration and gravitas of what surrounded it.

Keeping track of textural revelation is no easy task in a Rattle concert. Debussy's Jeux was plainly the fruit of painstaking preparation, but with the vital 'music' happening at the moment of performance. Infinite flexibility was allied to immaculate precision. As for Rattle's Haydn - Symphony No 90 - you'd go far to encounter a performance of greater relish and style. Everything was so alive, so full of fond nuance (not least the ornate flute, oboe and cello obbligatos). The surprises, the jokes, were all bang on target, though I half expected the prommers not to fall for both false endings.

One of Rattle's great calling-cards put the lid on Saturday's BBC Symphony Orchestra under Gianluigi Gelmetti. This account of The Rite of Spring was about balance and proportion, the ritualistic bellowing of tenor tubas and horns in mighty processionals (superb brass and percussion throughout). But the rhythms of delirium were too tightly reined, nowhere was there the slightest danger of spontaneous combustion. That can't be right. Earlier he had proved the perfect accompanist in a beautiful account of the Beethoven Violin Concerto from Frank Peter Zimmermann. Serenity was the watchword here: the refinements were legion, the tone sweet and true. It was the kind of performance that never stopped searching; quiet, ruminative, special.

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