Monday, 10 August 2009

Prom 33

To the Albert Hall for the 2nd (evening) half of the BBC Proms piano teamwork day. My main complaint with the programming of this day is that they contrived 2 programmes of piano teamwork without including any of Percy Grainger's pieces for multiple pianos.

The performers for the evening were the London Sinfonietta, BBC Singers plus an impressive array of 8 pianists, all conducted by Edward Gardner. The concert opened with George Antheil's Ballet mecanique. It was performed in the composers 1953 revision, which dropped the parts for pianolas (shame!) and got rid of some of the jazzier bits (shame!), instead we had 4 pianos, 2 xylophones, glockenspiel and other percussion. The xylophones have the main melodic interest and it was amazing how little real interest there was in the 4 piano parts. Perhaps the piece would have worked better with the accompanying film, or may be in a smaller hall. Though well played, it was a bit underwhelming.

I must confess that I had similar thoughts about the John Adams Grand Piano Music which followed. Here the London Sinfonietta winds seemed to be occasionally ill at ease, almost as if the day's rather grand structure had prevented adequate rehearsal time. Adams textures burbled and pooped along neatly enough, but it lacked the shock value it once had even when the amazing big tune appears in the final movement. But the main problem might have been my ears. This was the first time I'd heard the piece live, all previous encounters having been on disc, notably Adams own recording. Now, the Proms performance did include a limited amount of amplification, but I got the impression that this was mainly confined to the three female singers (the excellent Synergy Vocals), rather than balancing the whole band. Whereas on the recording, you feel everything has been balanced to perfection. Generally I far prefer acoustic performances, but having heard this one I start to wonder whether Adams is right and that his music does need a lot more acoustical intervention.

Things picked up after the interval with a superb performance of Bartok's Sonata for 2 pianos and percussion played by Philip Moore, Simon Crawford-Phillips, Coin Currie and Sam Walton.

Then the evening closed with Stravinsky's Les Noces, with a quartet of soloists (Tatiana Monogarova, Elena Manistina, Vsevolod Grivno, Kostas Smoriginas), 4 pianists, the London Sinfonietta percussion and the BBC Singers. Have 3 Russian native speakers in the soloists (Smoriginas is Lithuanian) was a big advantage. But the soloists confidence and crispness of rhythm was not matched by the BBC Singers who were far too delicate.

Gardner seemed to be impressively in control of all the performances (he did not conduct the Bartok) and relished the unusual timbres. This was an adventurous, typically Proms type programme; more's the pity that it did not quite come off.

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