Wednesday 20 August 2014

In tonight’s BBC Prom Daniel Barenboim displayed his superb ear for orchestral colour with the West–Eastern Divan players proving, once again, just what a fine orchestra they are.

Tonight’s BBC Prom (20th August 2014) brought back Daniel Barenboim and the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra for a program of Mozart, Adler, Roustom and Ravel. Perhaps more than ever it is good to see these Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab musicians joining together to give us such a fine concert.

After a taut, urgent performance of Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra gave us the first of two commissions by the orchestra, Israeli composer, Ayal Adler’s Resonating Sounds receiving its UK Premiere. There was a shimmering, resonating orchestral opening statement that soon gave way to quieter, more fragmented pockets of sound, interrupted by occasional surges of dynamic sound. There were many lovely details that combined, produced a strange overlay of textures and themes. Occasionally there were moments that didn’t perhaps hold together as well structurally but overall this was a beautifully orchestrated piece that produced some fine ideas.

Syrian composer, Kareem Roustom’s Ramal, also a UK Premiere, is based on pre-Islamic Arabic poetic meters used in classical Arabic poetry and had a forthright opening that soon gave way to a quieter, insistent theme full of forward motion, lightened by Roustom’s fine orchestration. There were moments of deep reflection beautifully orchestrated with some lovely woodwind moments as well as a lovely, haunting passage for strings. Before the coda there were some iridescent orchestral sounds before the music began to build dramatically, before the quiet coda.

This was a fine work from a composer of which we need to hear more. Daniel Barenboim and the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra provided a very fine performance of both works.

The second half of the Prom brought four works by Ravel, with a beautifully controlled opening to Rapsodie espagnole out of which flowed some lovely orchestral flourishes. This was not merely just a showpiece of a performance but one that was full of atmosphere and many fine details. The rhythms of Malagueña flowed naturally from the opening section with a beautifully languid, rhythmically subtle Habanera before building naturally in the dance rhythms of Feria with luscious orchestral flourishes and very fine string sonorities.

Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso followed with subtlety again being the watchword, despite the more boisterous moments. There was a languid atmosphere and some especially fine instrumental contributions in this spacious performance.

There was an exquisite performance of Pavane pour une infante défunte where Barenboim kept up the tempo but without the music ever seeming rushed, with so many lovely moments revealed by the orchestra.

The last work was Ravel’s Boléro, a work that is very little more than an exercise in orchestration. However, in the right hands it can take on the appearance of much more than that, particularly when played in the context of the other Ravel works performed tonight. Individual section principals were certainly given the opportunity to display their fine talents. This performance had a directness that allowed the music to speak for itself which, together with the sheer beauty of this orchestra’s playing, lifted the music.

Throughout, Barenboim displayed his superb ear for orchestral colour and the West–Eastern Divan players proved, once again, just what a fine orchestra they are.

However, the Prommers were not going to leave it there. Barenboim returned no less than four times to gives short pieces from Bizet’s Carmen bringing a rousing end to the evening’s music.

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