Wednesday 13 August 2008

Prom 35

Vassily Sinaisky and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra gave a fascinating programme which mixed the familiar and unfamiliar. They started with Elgar's In the South and finished with Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherezade, but in the middle Ashley Wass was the soloist in Ralph Vaughan Williams's Piano Concerto.

It is always interesting hearing foreign artists interpreting standard English repertoire. Here Sinaisky's account of the Elgar linked it to such continental models as the tone poems of Richard Strauss. The large body of BBC Philharmonic strings played magnificently but there were times when they seemed to overwhelm the woodwind players, but this might have been simply the vagaries of the Albert Hall acoustic.

For me, the highlight of the evening was the RVW Piano Concerto. Young pianist Ashley Wass has an association with Bax's piano music which provided links, via Harriet Cohen to the RVW (see previous post).

RVW's piece is famously taxing for the pianist. The player is required to produce whole fistfuls of notes and in the first 2 movements, rarely gets a moment to play alone or to really show off. The programme note describes the work as being influenced by the baroque concerto grosso, but there is nothing neo-baroque about the soundworld of the piece. From the outset, RVW goes for a big bold sound with a percussive piano part that links to Bartok.

Wass had the power and poetry to bring off the piano part brilliantly. He dominated the big orchestra passages remarkably, yet was still able to bring off the quieter, more introspective passages. This was particularly true of the bridge passages which link the movements. Here, and in the lovely slow movement, Wass was able to demonstrate his sure feel for the poetry of the piece.

Not every pianist can bring off playing loudly without seeming to hector. Wass managed the task perfectly, bringing a feeling of controlled poetry to even the loudest of the repetitive Bartokian passages. I do hope that this won't be the last time we get to hear Wass playing this much neglected work.

As we were planning to go to the late night Prom, I'm afraid that we cheated and missed the 2nd half of the concert so that we could go and get the car.

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