Proms: And Death becomes him...

BBC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ROYAL ALBERT HALL

IT IS, I suppose, a tragic fact of history that ethnic cleansing and political murder are as real for listeners today as they were for those of 50 years ago, and that the musical commemorations of Nazi reprisal killings and the murder of a Czech student still seem frighteningly contemporaneous.

Indeed, last Thursday's Prom recalled an alarming evening back in October 1905 when a young Czech student was stabbed to death for "demonstrating his enthusiasm for higher education". The words are those of Leos Janacek, who composed an intense Piano Sonata in the student's memory. Andras Schiff's performance drew maximum expressive capital from the eerily repetitive slow movement, Death, holding fast to an extremely broad tempo and investing each episode with a wealth of subtle shading. The first movement is marked Presentiment: con moto and, again, Schiff's fundamentally tender interpretation worked well. However, Schiff was less convincing in Dvorak's Piano Concerto, a lengthy piece that was for many years served up in a "pianistic" rewrite by the Prague music professor, Vilem Kurz. Schiff played the concerto in its original version, and I now understand why critics brand it unpianistic.

This being Dvorak, there are lovely ideas, not least the first movement's winding first theme, its polka-like second subject, and virtually all of the second movement. But the instrument that seems surplus to requirements is, oddly, the piano. Virtually everything of interest resides in the breezy orchestral score, whereas the poor soloist is saddled with endless sequences and vapid passage work.

As to Thursday's performance, the conductor Jiri Belohlavek drew some nicely arched phrasing from the BBC Symphony strings, but Schiff - who played from memory - pulled too many punches, preferring filigree finger- work and elastic rubato to a more obvious show of grandeur.

The concert opened with Bohuslav Martinu's gut-wrenching memorial to a Czech village which the Nazis annihilated as a reprisal for the assassination of the "overlord of the Protectorate of Moravia and Bohemia", Reinhard Heydrich.

Memorial to Lidice is sullen and solemn, as economical and centred as Janacek's Sonata is free-wheeling and fiercely neurotic. Belohlavek's performance had all the right ingredients, but the BBC Symphony's ensemble left a good deal to be desired, especially among the woodwinds.

Paradoxically, it was the wind section that fared best in the closing account of Brahm's Second Symphony, most notably the horn section and Lorna McGhee's expressive flute embellishments of the first movement's lyrical second theme. In other respects, the performance was distinguished more by the clarity and sensitivity of Belohlavek's conducting than by instrumental finesse. It was a well-structured reading that lacked both serious flaws and notable virtue.

ROBERT COWAN

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific