The First Night of the Proms tonight featured works by Nielsen, Gary Carpenter, Mozart, Sibelius and Walton with the BBC Singers, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo with pianist Lars Vogt and baritone Christopher Maltman
This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of both Nielsen and Sibelius and is celebrated by a number of performances of works by these composers. Nielsen will be featured in a further six Proms and Sibelius in another five programmes.
Nielsen’s Maskarade Overture is taken from his comic opera of that name, first produced in 1906. All the Nielsen fingerprints were here with Oramo finding many moments of attractive detail yet with a fine overall sweep and, towards the end, a real feeling of joie de vivre.
Gary Carpenter’s Dadaville, www.garycarpenter.net a BBC commission received its world premiere at tonight’s Prom. Dadaville was inspired by a relief by Max Ernst exhibited at the Tate Liverpool. In the composer’s words the piece starts gently and builds momentum based on the notes D and A which inform the whole piece.
As the music slowly and quietly opened there seemed to be very much the sound world of Britten in one of his Sea Interludes, an exquisitely conceived opening. Soon, however, there were little instrumental outbursts around the moments of tranquil beauty. As the work grew there were moments of disruptive, menacing undertones, as the music slowly built, insistently, with jazz style brass phrases to a final climax with the surprise of fireworks to conclude. A brilliant piece from a composer that I am becoming increasingly drawn towards.
Lars Vogt joined Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K.466. Oramo brought a lovely refined yet intense opening to this concerto with Vogt, when he entered, keeping something of a reserve. He brought a lightness of touch which, together with a great forward thrust, was wholly appealing though occasionally I would have liked a little more dramatic intensity. Oramo responded with some lovely light crisp phrasing. It was in the finale that Vogt and the orchestra really took off, seemingly building to this point, full of fire and thrust though with some, lovely gentler moments, finely nuanced.
After the interval Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra brought us Sibelius’ Suite Belshazzar's Feast. Sibelius had, in 1906, put aside work on his promised third symphony in order to work on his incidental music for Hjalmar Procopé’s play Belshazzars gästabud (Belshazzar's Feastfrom) from which he later drew an orchestral suite.
This rarity in the concert hall shows this most Finnish of composers bringing a real taste of the Orient in the opening Oriental Procession. Oramo carefully built the music before moving into a beautifully and sensitively drawn Solitude, finding a gentle, sultry quality, hauntingly beautiful. Nocturne rose with an exquisite flute melody, beautifully played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s principal. Some beautifully shaped woodwind led into the final section, Khadra’s Dance bringing exquisitely light textures to conclude a lovely performance.
Walton’s Belshazzar's Feast has been immensely popular since its first performance at the Leeds Festival in 1931, soon being taken up by the larger choral societies. Tonight, right from the beginning, the BBC Singers, BBC National Chorus of Wales and the BBC Symphony Chorus were phenomenal, particularly in Walton’s sometimes rather declamatory passages. Oramo drew a wonderfully dark atmosphere at the outset with some particularly rich sonorous textures from the BBCSO. Christopher Maltman brought a rich, strong, finely characterised performance. This fine bass baritone was absolutely tremendous in the mercilessly exposed solo part “Praise Ye – The God of Gold”. Oramo brought superb pacing and control with lovely choral harmonies from the Chorus.
There was a spellbinding moment as the writing appeared on the wall and Belshazzar was weighed in the balance and found wanting. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, with the BBC Singers, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus and the Royal Albert Hall organ certainly did make ‘a joyful noise to the God of Jacob’, in the final Alleluia.
Overall, this was an outstanding First Night.