As we all know, just occasionally the indisposition of an artist can be a blessed thing: it allows someone else an unexpected place in the sun. Heinrich Schiff's misfortune at Sunday night's Prom led to the finest live performance of the solo part in Dvorak's Cello Concerto that I can remember. Jumping in at exceedingly short notice - so short that not even the programme book carried a hint of a change (nor information on the replacement) - was the young German cellist, Alban Gerhardt.
A colleague of mine on this newspaper recognised his astonishing talent back in 1998, and Gerhardt has lived up to the praise with the BBC marking him out in their New Generation Artists scheme both in 1999 and 2000. Gerhardt's Dvorak is that of a young man: thoughtful and passionate, while appropriately languid. Gerhardt is a slight man but his sound is big, his musical intelligence without question as he sensitively coaxed the music to sing.
Evidence of hasty preparation, however, was revealed by initial uncertainty both by soloist and orchestra - the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra - and Sakari Oramo's conducting, especially in the outer movements, allowed the orchestra frequently to mask the soloist. Oramo's jerky gestures seemed oddly inappropriate for the full-bloodied romance of this score. Gerhardt was at his best in the slow movement, playing with heart-felt intensity and pacing his line to the wind soloists far behind him - a true soloist and chamber musician. In the fast third movement, Gerhardt kept marvellous control, surprisingly rising at one moment an octave above the written score. He was particularly fastidious to the score's dynamic markings, yet at the end of the piece brought tremendous tension to his final crescendo. Rightfully, he was very warmly received by the large audience.
Oramo looked more at ease in George Benjamin's Sudden Time. Premiered in 1993, it reveals the composer's close association with the music of Boulez and his IRCAM-inspired ilk. Benjamin favours French colours - flutes, harps, muted trumpets, muted horns, percussion - producing glittering, filigree patterning with pleasing contrasts between timbres and dynamics. His use of strings is not without warmth, even if the final viola solo seemed oddly exposed.
With Sibelius's 5th Symphony the orchestra, after some initial poor tuning, sounded entirely at ease. Oramo, too, seemed to relax into his compatriot's score with gentler gestures allowing the music to waft gloriously.Reuse content