The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Postlude to BBC Proms 2009 coverage,and afterthoughts

I am late submitting this assessment of what got heard from here of the 2009 Proms, because so much coverage of the festival as both Roger Wright calls it and it really is became so extensive on this blog that little attention got spent elsewhere.

The Proms is very important as indeed the festival that it is, in its promoting new music and keeping in repertoire works that are off the beaten track but still at least occasionally deserve getting heard. I have been made to, I suppose, regret, having missed the Symphony in G Minor by Moeran, as I think, conducted by Sinaisky, but amidst there having been so much else. Of course, Wright writes in Musical Opinion that the festival is also useful as a way to bring new audiences in for the standard repertoire. His recollection of the three part prom by the Koln Gurzenich and Markus Stenz last year harmonizes well with how much I found myself enjoying it online – with it so unusually opening with Mahler 5. I hope that Stenz and the Gurzenich will be invited back soon.

If not exactly a Proms with much that turned out to be absolutely thrilling, as any Proms I have tuned in for, covered over the past several years, it did have its highlights.
The three major composer anniversaries observed were those of Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. The Mendelssohn First Symphony, as conducted by Thierry Fischer, probably deserves coverage in retrospect, since it turned out to be a Proms premiere, and the Proms has experienced mostly consistent fine work from Fischer since he took over at the BBC Nat’l of Wales. The Second I also missed, but of the three symphonies in the standard rep, both the Third and Fourth fared best, under Norrington and Gianandrea Noseda respectively, who first year I covered anything by either one of them from the Proms, I had not been able to write in so favorably (on the BBC Proms website).

Handel did very well, with a mostly wonderful and often witty enough account of Partenope. If it did not spill over in wit as much as did a Rousset conducted Pierre Audi one out of Vienna, this was the more musically eloquent and immaculate of the two and with perhaps also one beautiful combination of intertwined psychological and musical insights. Tula Semmingsen, as Rosmira, gave a stellar performance of the part, with two very fine countertenors with whom to contend, Andreas Scholl and Christophe Dumaux, and very fine conducting by Lars Ulrik Mortensen. The dvd release of this from Copenhagen is highly recommended without delay, for just its musical values alone.
Quite to close to as very good was Handel’s Samson, which has me wondering if Jon Vickers’s interpretation of the title role of this may have ever picked up a hearing at the Proms. It very nearly got coverage on this blog and now stands as the very most likely when it comes up for rebroadcast later this year, as I expect it will. Mark Padmore, though with lyric voice, and having recorded smaller parts for Harry Christophers before, did not seem to have quite either the gravitas or steel to do such a heroic part full justice, but with both highly innate musical and dramatic sense, pulled it off anyway, with terse, but at once flexibly expressive support from Harry Bicket and the English Concert. Once Messiah rolled around, time had become so much of the essence that I could not tune in; casting, conducting of this up next to what had been heard for two major works already seemed second tier, based on my experience with McGegan in Handel before.

Except for fine performances of the two most famous full length concertos in the Tchaikovsky complete concerto series by Hough (conducted by Petrenko) and Rachlin (conducted by Karabits), little of any great consequence seemed to have happened with all this, except to fill in space better filled otherwise. For the Mahler, Bruckner crowd out there, results were as they have been any other year mixed. Jonathan Nott conducted what sounded like quite a curiously detached account of the Bruckner Third, for the only of his symphonies to be conducted for 2009, paired with a cool, glib account of Mozart Third Violin Concerto by Arabella Steinbacher and practically first choice of mine for being the very least consequential new work of any this year, Con Brio by Jorg Widmann. Both Nott’s visit several years ago with a new Rihm piece and Mahler Fourth proved much more what he is worth in Bamberg and also the GMJO concert that provided us such a harrowing account of Kindertotenlieder, to go up right up next to one also by Goerne conducted by Metzmacher earlier this year from Berlin.

Haitink’s Mahler 9 early in the festival with the LSO probably proved the best Mahler this year, even with his adoption of some Horenstein like tendencies, that did not quite help make his go at it this time eschew memories of his earlier recording and other performances of it, but made for very deeply expressive and moving playing in passages of it nevertheless. Zinman’s Fourth with Tonhalle Zurich in its faux proto-academic stance on it was of little consequence; Noseda’s Sixth hit the viscera in a compelling, even harrowing way, and overall sense of dread to so much of it, if having also possibly hit a few listeners as at least verging on two-dimensional. The risks taken still made it very much worth the ride.

Chailly, after a great Brahms Fourth he brought with Leipzig back in 2007, that compels one to think that a new Brahms cycle in his new city should be practically right around the corner, this was so definitive, returned with Leipzig Gewandhaus for the Mahler Tenth Symphony in its most recent Deryck Cooke realization. For those keen on insight into certainly what could have been, Chailly made his case for it about as good as anybody could have. He had a way however during the Adagio that opens this, or so often too also stands alone, making a little exaggerated underlined emphasis on cadential phrases, as though the music in the Adagio needs as much help this way, with such bolstering, as passages for instance in the finale too. Results were then curious concerning this. Metzmacher, however, with DSO Berlin, as part of concert closing the 2008-2009 season with them made the quality of seeing over to the other side, where most listeners see the Ninth and Das Lied as stopping right before being able to see so far, absolutely sublime. He almost made the argument fully compelling that we practically hear just very nearly all Mahler have had it left in him at point of writing the Tenth – but an illusion, because what Mahler himself might have constructed, in his artistic maturity, might have very well been beyond our wildest dreams.

Retrospective of earlier work by Schnittke (an early cantata, Nagasaki, conducted by Gergiev), Roma amor by P Maxwell Davies and of Takemitsu and more extensively Birtwistle pieces – the latter on a thoroughly excellent concert led by David Atherton, came off with very fine success. The latter, with Verses the featured work, that I found so overwhelming a listening experience, with so much else going on, I found impossible to review.Dialoge by B.A. Zimmermann was made just a bit curiously the featured work, though shorter than a couple of the rest, on the prom for Jurowski and the London PO this season. He made this piece mostly count, and so much better a piece than the Andriessen on an embarrassingly mediocre Proms by Salonen and Philharmonia - whereas Jurowski cheapened Debussy’s Jeus so by compromising just almost all its form and rhythms. I regret missing the Holliger eulogy for Sandor Veress, conducted by Thierry Fischer. As far as new music goes, there was quite a collection of a good handful of pieces or so, particularly those by Michel Jarrell (Sillages, also conducted by Fischer), John Casken’s only somewhat Lutoslawski-esque Orion over Farne that proved the highlight for the CBSO/Nelsons prom, and Toshio Hosokawa’s Cloud and Light, conducted by Jun Markl.

For perhaps what was the outstanding instrumental performance this year, the Proms for a second year in a row, paired up as such yet again with Ilan Volkov and BBC Scottish, was Alban Gerhardt for world premiere of new cello concerto by Unsuk Chin. Women composers were also represented by Rebecca Saunders, very well by the way, with ‘traces’ with Stk Dresden and Luisi and perhaps somewhat less consequentially by still considered to be a good composer Augusta Read Thomas. This year will also go down as ‘year of the woman’ at the Proms for also the very fine conducting appearance by Susanna Malkki, even though including a short work of not profound consequence, but not by a woman, on her program. Her program of mostly the Berlioz Te Deum and the Beethoven Fourth Symphony, not always or nearly at all the easiest of the Beethoven to conduct came off as so very fine, it made for my satisfaction the best conducting of the BBC Symphony Orchestra encountered all summer, beating out all the men.

I was looking forward to a surplus of Haydn symphonies, the best protector and watchdog, barometer among repertoire of, for the quality of orchestral playing for any ensemble that there is. With how Vienna and even also Concertgebouw represented themselves this year, I wonder ‘why bother? From Vanska (with BBC), Welser-Most (replacing Harnoncourt) and Jansons, so little of any consequence happened with the petty few for which the Proms allowed space. One could only find it most inexplicable that this had to have been the case. Conductors upon whom the Proms could have relied more reliably include Aimard, Volkov, Nott, Gardner, Malkki, Thierry Fischer, Colin Davis, even perhaps Adam Fischer, David Robertson, and all to whom the Proms could look in the near future to make up for the oversight.

Starting off about equally drab was the complete survey of Igor Stravinsky’s eleven ballets. with merely the suite version of Petrouchka, making the entire series almost five minutes incomplete or from being complete – as conducted by Jiri Belohlavek. Almost equally workaday was the Firebird as conducted by Andris Nelsons and rhythmically soggy and inept the Pulcinella as conducted by Nezet-Seguin. Not what I have usually considered one of Stravinsky’s more interesting ballet scores, the Scenes de Ballet Noseda infused with so much vitality and wit, it came as a shot in the arm in comparison with much that had transpired already. Kirill Karabits brought out such refined qualities to Fairy’s Kiss, it verged on redefining the piece in just the most subtle ways and with equally fine handling of the composer’s rhythms as well, which marked a triumph for his debut at the Proms and for making something so consistently compelling out of a score when played complete has seldom so much been before. Ilan Volkov, who deserves credit at the Proms for offering the most consistent quality of musicianship at least of who appears there every year and over a wide span of repertory, turned in fine performances of especially Apollo, but also of Rite of Spring, it is faint praise to say is the best Rite the Proms has hosted in at least four years.

Zubin Mehta closed the Proms with what turned out by default the best Brahms performance of the festival with the Fourth as played by the Vienna Philharmonic, but not one to quite erase memories especially of the Chailly with Leipzig two years ago or even Ingo Metzmacher’s with DSO Berlin at Edinburgh almost within the same week. Apart from my missing the Sinfonia domestica with Runnicles, not anywhere near my favorite Strauss, it appeared to have been an excellent year for Strauss at the Proms, with the fine and mostly deft Don Quixote with Mehta, but moreover the Alpine with Fabio Luisi and Also Sprach with Jonathan Nott.

If I had to choose best Prom of the year according to traditional parameters – best of the full orchestral programs, then for such a beautifully played and interpretatively probing account of the Alpine Symphony, it was Staatskapelle Dresden with Fabio Luisi for sure, with the very interesting Saunders piece on the first half and unusually excellent ritornelli for the Chopin F Minor as played better than can be usually expected from Lang Lang. Equal to it was the Partenope with the Danish cast, conducted by Lars Ulrik Mortsensen (though not forgetting too how good the Samson was from Harry Bicket and English Concert) and very almost so, the best youth orchestra concert I recall hearing yet from the Proms – the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, conducted by Jonathan Nott, which took 2001, Kubrick, space travel out of Ligeti and Strauss and by so doing made something acutely cogent out of each and of the real nuance and fine subtleties with which Ligeti, Mahler, Strauss, and Schoenberg all infused their works.

2009 marked as distinctive a Proms as has happened yet. Each year is unique and brings its unique treasures in each its special way, and in this regard, 2010 probably will be no different, except that it will bring just what is or will be unique to that year.


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