Friday 30 August 2013

BBC Proms – Anika Vavic’s Prom debut with Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO in works by Bantock, Prokoviev, Sibelius and Richard Strauss

This year’s BBC Proms  feature no less than five works by Sir Granville Bantock. Tonight’s Prom (30th August 2013) concentrated on tone poems by Bantock, Sibelius and Richard Strauss inspired by writing as diverse as Shelley,  the Finnish Kalevala and Nietzsche interspersed by Prokoviev’s Third Piano Concerto.

The late Vernon ‘Tod’ Handley almost single handedly brought about a renewal of interest in the music of Granville Bantock through his recordings. Bantock’s The Witch of Atlas (Tone Poem No. 5) (1902) was inspired by Shelley’s poem of the same name. Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra brought some evocative instrumental sounds to Bantock’s distinctive orchestration before the mellow romantic melody, beautifully played by the LPO. The lively central passage was wonderfully caught by Jurowski and the orchestra, who knew just how to bring out the drama hidden in this largely sensuous work, highlighting the cyclical form of the work.

Jurowski and the orchestra were joined by the Serbian pianist Anika Vavic in Prokoviev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Opus 26 (1917–1921). For all Prokoviev’s acerbic wit, this is also a sublimely lyrical concerto, something which Anika Vavic’s light touch helped to draw out in the Andante – Allegro. Jurowski’s accompaniment, with a broad sweep, helped to reinforce this view, providing much poetry. Vavic’s unassuming virtuosity was a delight. Prokoviev’s rhythmic phrases were finely caught and she gave us a whirlwind of a coda, full of clarity. In the Theme et Variations, Vavic responded to the mood changes brilliantly, showing fine clarity of articulation, something of a keynote for the performance as a whole. Both pianist and orchestra provided some beautifully languid moments, full of atmosphere. The Allegro ma non Troppo was slowly built from its steady opening through moments of finely wrought tension to an inevitable coda, with Jurowski and the LPO revealing some of the beauties of Prokoviev’s orchestration.

Sibelius’ Pohjola’s Daughter began the second half of the night’s Prom with Jurowski and the LPO bringing out all the darkness of the opening, with some fine playing from the principal cellist of the LPO. As the music developed, I would have liked a little more long drawn tension, but in the lighter Largamente section, Jurowski produced some lovely moments with a most affecting coda. If this performance gave fleeting, quicksilver moments of beauty at the expense of some of the drama it, nevertheless, revealed new aspects to the work.

Richard Strauss’ Nietzschean inspired Also sprach Zarathustra saw Jurowski in his element with the Albert Hall organ in full flight in the impressive opening, an imposing sunrise. Jurowski allowed an organic development from the Introduction right through to the lovely hushed coda, by way of moments full of ardour, mystery, swagger and dance, magnificently built to exploit all the drama of this work. A fine Zarathustra.

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