Friday 23 October 2009

Salomon Orchestra concert

On Tuesday we went to St. John's Smith Square for the Salomon Orchestra's concert. Conducted by Philip Ellis, they gave the first public performance of John McCabe's Symphony 'Edward II' and Ellis's own concert scenario taken from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet

I must confess that I when I saw the full ballet, I had doubts about McCabe's score for David Bintley's ballet Edward II, finding the music too complex and symphonic for the dance especially as Bintley was creating a grand historical ballet in the traditional manner. In 1999, shortly after the first performance, McCabe re-worked the music into his symphony, though in fact the name symphonic suite would be better. The result is 45 minutes of extremely powerful music and it is puzzling why the work had to wait till now for its first public performance. Salomon's account of the work was compelling and dramatic. Granted there was the odd rough corner, but these counted for little against a fine performance of such a taut work.

Ellis's concert scenario from Romeo and Juliet uses the composer's final ballet score as its source and keeps the episodes in the correct order which means that the plot can be followed in the music. The composer's own suites were assembled after the music was first written and preserve the original orchestration in places, but Prokofiev re-ordered the scenes for musical effect. The concert scenario lasted just over an hour, which made for quite a substantial concert. I got the impression that the orchestra might have been tiring a little. The louder, more dramatic movements worked best. Though there were some lovely luminous moments in the quieter passages, the effect was not quite as concentrated as perhaps it could be and one was aware a little of the difficulty of Prokofiev's score.

The concert scenario worked well dramatically and there were only a couple of moments when I felt rather a lurch in the music. But then again, I have become most familiar with the score as a ballet score at the Royal Ballet where I first saw it nearly 40 years ago in a performance with Natalia Makarova (newly defected from Russia) and the late David Blair. In fact it was the first live ballet that I had seen, a wonderful introduction. The piece was performed with projected excerpts from Shakespeare's play along with images from Kenneth MacMillan's ballet, useful if you were unfamiliar with the ballet.

As ever, Salomon delivered a memorable concert with some powerful playing of some strong music.

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