MUSIC / The Proms: Time and emotion: Anthony Payne on the BBC Symphony and London Philharmonic orchestras

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The Independent Culture
THE UNIQUE acoustic of the Albert Hall is only really suited to a limited portion of the repertory, and many of the pieces performed during the course of the Proms season find themselves taking part in an acoustic marriage of convenience. Mozart's Piano Concerto in F, K 459, for instance, which featured in Sunday evening's big triple-decker programme, needs a much smaller hall if its chamber music qualities and its solo/tutti dialogues are to make their full effect. Despite this, the aura which the hall's spaces cast around Mozart's magical textures lent a quasi-lontano air that was deeply touching, while Nikolai Demidenko, renowned for his heroic power in late-Romantic repertory, reined himself in most impressively in a solo performance of lyric radiance and quicksilver intellect.

Earlier, however, we heard a piece so perfectly geared to the hall's acoustic that one feared for its life in any other building. Laid out for five percussionists playing a huge array of exotic instruments (the Canadian ensemble Nexus magnificently in command) and a varied but not over-large orchestra, Toru Takemitsu's From me flows what you call Time (a UK premiere) is a work of the most charismatic textural presence, relying on an inspirational command of changing timbres to sustain its poetic stream of consciousness. The composer has explained how, in writing a piece for the centenary of Carnegie Hall, he had imagined 100 years of time flowing through that space, and he does indeed banish all sense of the here- and-now with hypnotic, time- distorting textures.

Debussy is the composer who is perhaps most called to mind in Takemitsu's eclectic style, and it is touching to think that his thoroughly Japanese sensibility has encompassed such an influence a century after Debussy himself was radically transformed by hearing the music of the Far East. This fascinating synthesis is paralleled by Takemitsu's skill in interweaving the complex percussion and orchestral strands in his coruscating score - each varied element given the chance to breathe and establish a focal point. One will long remember the telling contribution of the 'wind-horse chimes', bells up in the upper boxes of the hall which were activated from the stage by means of long streamers.

Andrew Davis directed a marvellous performance of the piece, pacing its long slow breaths to contemplative perfection. He later drew equally fine, passionate playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Tippett's Ritual Dances, music that never seems to lose its visionary, transforming power or its ability to evoke the changing seasons. Finally there was a radiant interpretation of another transformation scene, the closing sequence from Daphne, in which Strauss's gorgeously proliferating soprano line was superbly delivered by Janice Watson.

After this rather odd collection, Monday's Prom seemed comparatively sober, juxtaposing two contemporaneous masterpieces, Dvorak's Violin Concerto and Brahms's Symphony No 4, with Bartok's Dance Suite. Yet these standard repertory items were illumined by freshly imagined playing from the London Philharmonic under Franz Welser-Most.

In the Bartok, they summoned exactly the combination of raw power and heart-breaking tenderness which this music demands. It was one of Bartok's greatest feats to have constructed a musical language of universal significance out of localised folk traditions, although significantly he had no need to quote actual folk dances in the Suite, but invented his own. Here, Dvorak could be said to have showed the way. His Violin Concerto, performed with great vitality and warmth by Frank Peter Zimmermann, is a perfect example of his particular brand of synthesis, closing with one of the most entrancing symphonic folk dance movements, but attempting a graver cosmopolitanism in the curious bi- partite opening movement.

Joachim, who kept Dvorak's concerto on his desk for two years while suggesting a whole host of alterations, also gave crucial advice to Brahms in the writing of his own concerto. Brahms's particular combination of inspiration and intellect was probably better able to gain from such a partnership. It certainly reached its peak in the Fourth Symphony, a masterpiece of Olympian balance which he never surpassed. It requires very special interpretive qualities of its performers. Here, Welser-Most and his orchestra came close to the ideal. The employment of instrumental colour, long thought not to be Brahms's forte, was marvellously reproduced - the subtle blending of wind and string timbres creating a glow which bore true structural as well as emotional meaning.

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