Proms 14, 15 & 16 | Royal Albert Hall

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The Independent Culture

After a series of large-scale pieces, the late-night Promenade concert on Tuesday provided proof that the popular Royal Albert Hall can work well for the small scale. Making its Proms début, Europa Galante, is a young Italian ensemble specialising in the Baroque. Their numbers on Tuesday were tiny: 11 strings, oboe d'amore and flute plus harpsichord or portative organ as continuo. Those that can stand while playing, do. This is an "authentic" group - light bowing, crisp articulation, minimal vibrato, the rasp of gut - but wears its academicism lightly. The programme was a nice conceit linking Bach, a Proms featured composer, to music that influenced him. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Bach's wholesale transcription of Vivaldi's A minor concerto for 2 violins, might nowadays be regarded as copyright infringement. In its original form, Fabio Bondi and Raffaello Negri, gave a marvellously fleet, springy account with breathtakingly fast duetting.

After a series of large-scale pieces, the late-night Promenade concert on Tuesday provided proof that the popular Royal Albert Hall can work well for the small scale. Making its Proms début, Europa Galante, is a young Italian ensemble specialising in the Baroque. Their numbers on Tuesday were tiny: 11 strings, oboe d'amore and flute plus harpsichord or portative organ as continuo. Those that can stand while playing, do. This is an "authentic" group - light bowing, crisp articulation, minimal vibrato, the rasp of gut - but wears its academicism lightly. The programme was a nice conceit linking Bach, a Proms featured composer, to music that influenced him. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Bach's wholesale transcription of Vivaldi's A minor concerto for 2 violins, might nowadays be regarded as copyright infringement. In its original form, Fabio Bondi and Raffaello Negri, gave a marvellously fleet, springy account with breathtakingly fast duetting.

Ian Bostridge is acclaimed, not just for his voice, but for his intelligence of delivery. In two solo cantatas by Bach - No.55 "Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht", a remarkably chromatic work, and No.82a "Ich habe genug", his coolness cut through, the drama the more effective for its understatement. "Ich habe genug" is more usually performed by bass/baritone with oboe obbligato and occasionally Bach's line sat uneasily low for Bostridge's voice. More seriously, in the opening aria, the soft grained baroque flute (replacing the oboe) was almost inaudible.

Earlier in the evening, the BBCNOW under Tadaaki Otaka, brought Henry Wood's boldly pronounced "Suite No.6 by Bach", a full frontal arrangement for symphony orchestra of well-known extracts, demonstrating how far we've come in allowing such "inauthentic" arrangement and performance the time of day. Welsh composer, Rhian Samuel's "Tirluniau" (Landscapes), receiving its first performance, is an orchestral impression of four Celtic landscapes. Atmospheric rather than literal, she writes clearly and with considerable craft, "Lights of the Bay" the most striking of the four. Boris Berezovsky was the athletic soloist in Shostakovich's 2nd piano concerto, a work described by the composer, a touch harshly, as of "no artistic value." A generally average evening was rounded off by an efficient rather than effective performance of the Ravel-orchestrated "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Mussorgsky.

Matters improved dramatically on Wednesday. We were back to the big league: Mahler's massive 6th symphony in all its grandeur and grotesqueness. The BBC Philharmonic played as if their lives depended on it - brass and wind screaming, strings soaring, cow bells jangling, percussion menacing, the end an execution. Talent runs in families but Paarvo Järvi, son of Neeme and Music Director Designate of the Cincinnati Symphony, (making his Proms début) has an extraordinary gift. Holding the vast structure together so unobtrusively, he gave the players their head and was rewarded in spades. An intensely musical, 1st Piano Concerto of Beethoven with Lars Vogt as soloist began the evening, Järvi visibly warming to Vogt's subtle rubato and shaping. A concert to be long remembered.

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