Prom 66: Royal Academy / Davis, Prom 68: Now / Gamba, Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 07 September 2005
The first half featured wartime pieces from the last century. Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, usually seen as affirmative, went so slowly and severely that the percussion in particular turned thoroughly menacing. In Vaughan Williams's Symphony No 6, the number of players and the unrelenting drive of Sir Colin Davis's conducting made for unexpected parallels with Shostakovich's music of the same time, taking the piece a long way from its usual image of disrupted English idylls.
But the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique was the evening's musical summit. The orchestra was able to pick up Davis's rhythmic subtlety as though it had been playing with him for decades, and the result, with its relish, pace and (mostly) precision, was the most all-encompassing of the many performances I have heard from him. Violins were the outstanding section, but individual players also shone: cor anglais, E flat clarinet, principal timpanist.
The ostensible interest two nights later with the National Orchestra of Wales centred on Alan Rawsthorne's Piano Concerto No 2. It's beautifully judged and laid out, the quieter the better. Yet there's only one theme that really sticks, the Latin-Caribbean one that opens the finale. For all Howard Shelley's poetry and vigour as soloist, the concerto 50 years on rarely had enough of its own to say.
Instead, the lasting memories of the concert will be of conductor Rumon Gamba bringing off an outrageously accelerating finale in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 4, and wonderful shades of pizzicato in the movement before. A shame, then, that, as in the Britten Sea Interludes, the pace was sometimes too fast for proper excitement, though the big picture was drawn with boldness and allowed woodwind solos to shine.
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