Whatever happened to malice aforethought?

The trouble with Gennady Rozhdestvensky is that he just doesn't do intensity any more.

A NOD is as good as a wink if you're Gennady Rozhdestvensky. And a nod or a wink or a flick of the wrist (or shoulder, for maximum emphasis) is reckoned to be enough to coax, cajole, or simply reassure experienced players that they're on the right track.

Watching Rozhdestvensky steer the BBC Philharmonic through Vaughan Williams' Overture "The Wasps" on Thursday, night, the benign smile said it all, really. Enjoy. And they did. The buzz-word proliferated speedily through the strings to varying degrees of intensity (nicely judged) only to relax into one of the composer's happiest inventions - "green and pleasant" indeed.

Rozhdestvensky just left them to it. From his preferred position on the floor, "among" his players (no podium for him), he basically set a tempo, and looked on. And it was enough. For now.

But Vaughan Williams in repose is not Walton in anger, and there followed later a fatally inert account of Walton's First Symphony. Pieces like this need intensive care, preparation, motivation - intensive everything.

But if appearances are anything to go by, Rozhdestvensky doesn't do intensive any more. It's a kind of laziness, an assumption that pieces like this will look after themselves, that a good orchestra (and the BBC Philharmonic is certainly that) will make the running on his behalf.

I say "running", but he failed miserably on even the fundamental establishment of workable tempi. Walton's first movement is seismic; it's about upheaval (between-the-wars in every sense). But it's about urgency, too - the rhythmic imperative, the rhythmic vehemence of it is absolutely critical. And this - from the insistent string figures of the opening bars onwards - was dead on arrival.

No tension, no impetus, no threat. The scherzo is marked Presto, con malizia (and we're talking malice aforethought), which was laughable in the circumstances - though not for the timpanist who clearly found it practically impossible to fire off his ripping exclamations without the benefit of a tail-wind. Feeble.

At least the solo flute was able to take Walton at his word in the slow movement, making much of the melody marked Doloroso molto espressivo.

But without a context of stress and strife to give it meaning, it kind of drifted by. As did the symphony. Rozhdestvensky just wasn't there for it.

Whether or not he was there for Simon Bainbridge's harrowing symphonic song-cycle Ad Ora Incerta, I cannot say, because such is the innate power of Primo Levi's texts (drawn from his own experiences of the Holocaust) and the almost fixed expression of Bainbridge's settings - like "bad news" bound for eternity - that the whole concept of "performance" seems suddenly irrelevant.

Mezzo soprano Susan Bickley and her "constant companion" (her inner-self?), the bassoonist Kim Walker, nursed their outrage through snowstorm and frozen wasteland, woodwinds whirring in perpetuum, glacial strings fixing the desolation in your mind.

Occasionally, such alien sounds as the eerie wail of the flexatone, the sinister shuffle of percussion, or the scream of the factory whistle would break through this morass of barely suppressed rage and remembrance to give the words a terrible explicitness. But for the most part they were intoned with primitive and impartial and numbing inevitability - an extraordinary, proactive kind of monotony set to continue, one felt, until someone finally took notice.

The Soviets took notice of Shostakovich's 13th Symphony "Babi Yar" and duly outlawed it for daring to endorse the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko's contention that Mother Russia was as culpable in her anti-Semitism as had been her Nazi invaders.

It didn't end there. Words and music went on to conspire in a damning indictment of Stalinism in all its invidiousness. And as with the Bainbridge, the force of the simple gesture triumphantly succeeded. Vassily Sinaisky was much more of a "hands-on" conductor here than Rozhdestvensky had been the previous night.

But some elements of compromise, of punches pulled, were still evident. Perhaps Sergei Leiferkus might have coloured his vocal commentary more trenchantly; perhaps the male voices of the Huddersfield and Leeds Festival Choirs might have been better schooled in the dark and decisive ways of Slavic declamation (too many fuzzy entries). Perhaps it could all have been more unforgiving. No perhaps about it.

Edward Seckerson

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas