Friday, July 25, 2008

Prom 10: BBC Philharmonic / Tortelier (RAH)

Another dish of meat and potatoes? I must watch it, I'll get fat(ter).

Arnold Bax is one of those composers. You know the sort - English, tonal, vaguely post-romantic, championed by a lot of slightly scary obsessive middle-aged men who can't understand why this doesn't get played all the time on the radio instead of all that modern rubbish, and form a society (fan club) to prove their devotion. There's nothing exactly wrong with In memoriam, which receives its first public performance here. It's inoffensive waffle, and slightly less glum than Bax often is. But I was still bored by the end, as I always am by Bax. In a while I'll forget about this piece and start fretting again that he's a compose I ought to listen to more of. But i don't think I'll ever hear anything that'll actually make me want to.

Rachmaninov is surely near the top of anyone's list of composers you ought to think are a load of rubbish but don't. He ought to be irredeemably cheesy, but there's something about him that stops short of that. He's at least as glum as Bax, but people don't seem to comment on that much. His First Piano Concerto isn't played as often as the later ones, and it becomes clear that this is because it's not as good as them. It's okay, all the elements of his sound are there, but at this stage in his career he hadn't quite worked out how to stitch the bits together effectively. Yevgeny Sudbin plays brilliantly (as do the orchestra), and also looks frighteningly young from my perspective in the foothills of middle age. "But he's a child!" I think. He was born in 1980, so he's hardly a prodigy by now. But that seems practically foetal to me.

Vaughan Williams' Fourth Symphony is one of those pieces that always astonishes, not least because it's by Vaughan Williams. When I was young and foolish, I thought old RVW to be a crashing bore (Yawn Williams, I called him. God, I was funny). Then I heard this and the Sixth and realised I was going to have to change my mind. Would this extraordinary, violent and dissonant work get such an enthusiastic reception if it wasn't presented under the name of the patron saint of Classic FM, composer of The Lark Ascending?

Everything's here that hasn't really been about so far in the concert: anger, tension, and also a very sardonic sense of humour. Not a cowpat in sight. It's hot in the hall tonight, very close and sweaty. But that hardly registers when you're gripped by music this powerful.

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