Review: Proms Bournemouth SO / Yakov Kreizberg Royal Albert Hall, London / Radio 3
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Friday 08 August 1997
This Prom was all about the past. The shock of the old. Even the premieres were belated. Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto might have been kept on ice for the occasion. The extraordinary symbiosis between Kreizberg and his soloist, Gil Shaham, made it feel like a first performance. I can't remember when I last heard a partnership so thoroughly engaged in the business of making a piece happen. It first happened back in 1945, of course. The photo in the programme is of Korngold as Peter Lorre. Or is it the other way round? The sounds we hear are the invention of Hollywood. Or is it the other way round? Two gorgeous themes (too good to be true) dream on through the first movement, the vibraphone providing that corny old ripple effect over the lens. Except that it's too subversive to be corny. Just as you think you're getting comfortable with the sweetness (and this is particularly true of the second movement "Romance"), Korngold will tweak at your illicit desires (a chromatic flattening here, a tantalising side-step there), so for a moment you don't know where you are. You've heard it all before (actually you have: most of the themes are Korngold movie remnants), but then again you haven't.
Shaham played it with wonderful awareness of its time and place, the smell of an era. The swoon factor was prevalent (though not vulgar), slides properly voluptuous, tuning on the bright side of intense. It was all about rapture, smouldering cadences offered to and gratefully received by Kreizberg and an ardent Bournemouth Symphony. As for the finale's expensive moment, it was hard to distinguish there between Errol Flynn and a rather more recent Hollywood creation. Yes, long before the little guy was even thought of, ET was phoning home. John Williams, you've been found out yet again.
Stravinsky described the composer of the evening's second Prom premiere as "not so much a Wunderkind as an Altklug [precocious brat]". And to think that Igor Markevitch went on to become one of his greatest champions. Rebus was the score that prompted this fit of pique. It was the ballet that Serge Diaghilev didn't live to see realised, and a sizeable chip off Igor the First's block. It survives as a "suite for orchestra" and is driven - and I mean driven - by the music of the streets. It's very urban and very 1930s. Shrill, spiky, mechanistic music with a sinister human face. Not one we care to see too clearly. Constructivism looms large in the central "Variations". It's like smelted Hindemith pumping through Mossolov's iron foundry, superimposition piled upon superimposition in a grimly obsessive crescendo. It requires a mother of a fugue to work off that steam. Finally, a gaudy "Parade". Rimbaud would have called it "sauvage".
So from the last of Diaghilev to the first. Kreizberg's Firebird Suite was full of bodily enticement. It is a tribute to the special relationship between him and this orchestra that the internal rubatos felt so natural, so inbred. The big sleep - that unimaginably tensile but near-silent veil of tremolando at the start of the finale - was, as ever, the very embodiment of the musical magic spell. Enchantment seems to begin and end there. Except that it didn't. Whatever the Proms bring us over the next weeks, this one will stand out for the sheer honest-to-goodness pleasure of its music-making.
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