Proms: And Death becomes him...
BBC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ROYAL ALBERT HALL
Tuesday 04 August 1998
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.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove