PROMS Bruckner; Schnittke Rozhdestvensky / BBC SO Royal Albert Hall, London

On Thursday, Kensington played host to a Prom of two halves.
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The Independent Culture
Any performer capable of switching from the earnest architecture of Bruckner's Second Symphony to the brazen horseplay of Schnittke's Dead Souls must have courage to spare. And yet that's precisely the route that Gennady Rozhdestvensky took for his Thursday Prom with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Mid-way, Mrs Rozhdestvensky (Victoria Postnikova) made a lustrous statement of Stravinsky's Capriccio. Rozhdestvensky conducted his players hand-on-hip, rubbing his fingers at the strings or waving a throw-away cue to his wife; and when she took her bows, he stood there beaming and wiggling his baton. But then it was very much his night.

After Stravinsky, came Rozhdestvensky's own arrangement of Schnittke's 1983 score for a TV film based on Gogol's proto-avant-garde Dead Souls. Rozhdestvensky mounted the rostrum and turned the pages of a patchwork score before giving the sign for nine short movements, including a mysterious "Introduction" that recalled middle-period Bartok, a Prokofiev-style Polka, a Mahlerian Funeral March and a March-style fourth-movement that had both the orchestra and the audience in stitches. But that wasn't the half of it. "Plyushkin's Youth" saw Rozhdestvensky arranging two metronomes in syncopation, then physically disentangling a schmaltzy violin / cello duet, swooning to the pianist's romantic gestures (placing hand on heart and wiping away a mock tear), launching into an explosive Galop and inspecting his ranks like a military bandmaster. And the score? Pastiche peppered with irony, though it was the conductor who stole the show with a manner of miming that suggested a potential second career.

Rozhdestvensky has always been a staunch Brucknerian, having recorded most - if not all - of the symphonies back in Russia and developed a recognizably individual "Bruckner style". Thursday's account of the Second Symphony - an unfamiliar combination of editions - was temperate, detailed and occasionally mannered, a leisurely sketch rather than a grand vision. The work opens to a clear pulse that quite failed to register, but things did improve - in spite of a half-hearted lead trumpet and some loose ensemble work. The slow movement comes closer to Brahms than anything else in Bruckner, especially near the outset where there are audible similarities to the German Requiem. A touching though brief duet for flute and violin was especially memorable, while the Scherzo - a highly rumbustious affair - ricocheted loudly off the rear of the hall. As to the Finale, the less said the better. It's the sort of movement that, if it's going to work at all, demands total commitment. Rozhdestvensky's performance was patient and conscientious but ultimately unconvincing. Most of the orchestra looked bored out of their minds: no wonder they took to Schnittke's fun and games with such relish.

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