I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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Rachmaninoff at the BBC Proms

Sergei Rachmaninoff:
Piano concerto #3 in D minor, Op. 30
Symphony #2 in E minor, Op. 27
Two Russian Orthodox Chants (“Thy tomb, O Saviour”, “Serene Light”)

Alexander Gavrylyuk, piano
Latvian Radio Choir
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard
Royal Albert Hall, London, 13 August 2017

London’s Royal Albert Hall can be a difficult venue to play. The Ukranian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk left an unforgettable impression two years ago in Rotterdam with a superb rendition of the very same Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 under Valery Gergiev. Gavrylyuk is a subtle artist and clearly knows how to dose his Rachmaninoff. His playing reveals enormous depth underneath the lightest of surfaces and refuses every bit of flash or showiness. The slower passages sound compellingly tender and introverted in his hands, standing out just as much, if not more, as the technical fireworks. This time, in his BBC Proms debut, Gavrylyuk still had me convinced by his approach, even if compared to his Rotterdam performance I felt that the Royal Albert Hall audience was somehow shortchanged and part of the emotional intent of his message simply vaporized within the immense space of the hall – as in the very opening of the Concerto and in the Intermezzo: Adagio. (I suspect people who followed the concert live on TV or on the radio were able to appreciate the range of his playing a lot more than we did).

But this is how it goes in live music-making and to be sure this was still a magnificent performance. The tonal beauty of Gavrylyuk’s piano, his grip on the work’s structure as well as his mercurial speed in some of the passages and the exciting, well-judged buildups held the audience spellbound. Thomas Dausgaard stuck very closely to his soloist – literally leaving him rarely out of sight – and ensured the most sympathetic accompaniment from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, including beautiful solo work from woodwinds and horns.

As an encore Gavrylyuk performed Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise in the transcription by Vladimir Horowitz. Again, the audience seemed mesmerized by his reflective pianism – one could hear a pin drop and it took a long time after the last note subsided before they erupted in applause.

Music of the Russian Orthodox Church has been a great influence on Rachmaninoff’s style and it was a fine idea to preface both major works of this evening by ancient monastic chants, performed by the Latvian Radio Choir. The likeness between Thy tomb, O Saviour and the opening theme of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto has been pointed out (although the composer denied any direct origins) and was well illustrated here. Preceding the Concerto members of the Latvian Radio Choir entered the hall processing down to the arena through the audience before disappearing under the stage.

The concert continued with Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, again introduced by an Orthodox chant Serene Light from the Latvians, effectively performed this time from the top Gallery. Conducting from memory, Dausgaard led an outstanding performance of the massive symphony, well-shaped and phrased throughout. Swift, lean and often vigorous, he kept things going, enough so in the first movement to justify the exposition repeat, while the dynamic divided strings of the BBC Scottish Symphony unraveled Rachmaninoff’s polyphonic textures to delight. This is a long work, but it didn’t feel this way here. I missed some of the darker colors in the brass and the bass strings sounded from where I was sitting slightly underwhelming. This was undoubtedly more a problem of the hall’s acoustics again. Solos were without exception beautifully performed, though, especially the clarinet solo from Yann Ghiro in the Adagio and the first horn. In short, a superbly rewarding Rachmaninoff evening at the Proms.

Copyright © 2017 Marc Haegeman


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Yuja Wang at the BBC Proms

Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
Arnold Bax: Symphony #2
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings, Op. 11
Béla Bartók: Piano Concerto #2
Serge Prokofieff: Symphony #4 in C Major, Op. 112 (1947 version)

Yuja Wang, piano
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
BBC Proms – London, Royal Albert Hall, 16 August 2011

The 43rd Prom featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton was without doubt one of the most generous of the season, running well over three hours with two twenty minute intervals. A copious, but at times also rather heavy meal of 20th-century music, with two symphonies, a piano concerto, and two shorter orchestral pieces. The concert also included the Proms debut of the acclaimed 24-year old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Gergiev at the BBC Proms

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake
Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg/Valery Gergiev
BBC Proms – London, Royal Albert Hall, 15 August 2011

Of the three Tchaikovsky ballets, Swan Lake is in spite of its ever-lasting popularity the most unfortunate. Unlike The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s first attempt in the genre has from the start been tampered with, not to say mutilated, and even to this day dance-makers of all talent feel free to ravish the score at will to suit their purposes. As if somebody today would alter the order and content of a Verdi or Wagner opera because that is considered an improvement.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Alice Sara Ott at the BBC Proms

Jean Sibelius: Symphony #6 in D minor, Op. 104
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
Carl Nielsen: Symphony #4 “Inextinguishable”

Alice Sara Ott, piano
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
BBC Proms – London, Royal Albert Hall, 8 August 2011

The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic under their chief conductor Sakari Oramo brought a delectable all-Scandinavian program for the 33rd installment of this year’s BBC Proms. Two rarely played works, Jean Sibelius’ 6th Symphony and Carl Nielsen’s 4th Symphony, framed Edvard Grieg’s ever-popular Piano Concerto. The soloist in the concerto was Alice Sara Ott in her Proms debut.
Read the full review on Classical Net