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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on