Tuesday, August 05, 2003

CONCERT REVIEW: PROMS 2003

Proms Royal Albert Hall
By David Murray
Financial Times, London (UK), August 5, 2003

At Friday's Prom, the Estonian conductor Paavo Jarvi led the BBC Philharmonic in his compatriot Erkki-Sven Tuur's remarkable violin concerto. It is a hefty piece, more than half an hour long, but the redoubtable Dutch soloist Isabelle van Keulen, who premiered it in 1999, looked serenely poised throughout its strenuous byways.

Not only the violin part, which begins with frantic sawing of arpeggios, but the whole score sounds athletic and muscularly confident. There's little conventional "development"; rather, in the lengthy first movement, the soloist continually flings out musical ideas which the orchestra seizes upon and alters, feeding them back to her transformed.

The second begins in microtonal bass gloom, soon lifted by lyrical flights from the violin, high and bright; the brief final movement unites soloist and orchestra in a race home. It was an afterthought, apparently, and sounds like filling a prescription, without any new ideas. But the whole piece is very striking, and often exciting. Too much has been made, I think, of Tuur's "synthesising" of tonality and atonality, minimalism, serialism and what-have-you; this is simply a composer with his own generous idiom, happy to borrow effects and devices from many sources. He began as a rock musician, and traces of that often surface in his music.

Jarvi and the BBC Philharmonic had begun with Mussorgsky's A Night on Bare Mountain: a notably musical reading, but the result was a bit tame and tidy. Not, surely, what Mussorgsky had in mind! After the interval, however, we had a most searching and thoughtful Prokofiev 6th: moving despair, weariness, a great sense of loss, in no wise contradicted by the pretend-light-hearted finale. It was a performance of real distinction.

Monday, August 04, 2003

CONCERT REVIEW: PROMS 2003

BBCPO/Jarvi. Albert Hall/Radio 3 ***
By Matthew Connolly
The Times, London (UK), August 4, 2003

Faint hearts were turned away at the door for this Prom, which featured three works to make your flesh creep and your timbers shiver - Mussorgsky's hair raising Night on the Bare Mountain, Prokofiev's vast and dark Sixth Symphony and the British premiere of a quite disturbingly frenzied Violin Concerto by the Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tuur. All the materials were there: a witches' coven, a Soviet battlefield, a surreal nightmare of uncoiling energy. So it was disappointing when the BBC Philharmonic and the conductor Paavo Jarvi under-did the intensity in their performance, and failed to turn this evening into a real thriller.

Though Jarvi waved his stick around energetically like a musical Charlie Chaplin, and kept a vigorous command of tempi in the Mussorgsky and the Prokofiev, which opened and closed the concert, he felt just too safe a pair of hands overall, and the orchestra needed electric shock treatment.

The nearest we got to high voltage was in the music of Jarvi's friend and compatriot Tuur, whose Violin Concerto was the real blood-curdling meat of this concert, performed by the powerful Dutch violinist Isabelle van Keulen.

Like an athlete, she ran headlong into the theme dominating this intriguing work: a long series of razor-sharp and lightning-quick arpeggios that soon infested the whole of the string section, as soloist and orchestra were thrown into a duel across a battlefield of musical styles. Here were brutally dissonant cluster chords, violent bangs, crashes, slips and slides (think Tom and Jerry); there, the tintinnabulations and wide, still landscapes of that other big Estonian, Arvo Part; and now, pestering minimalist mosquitoes, and, even more shockingly, warm moments of trilling, sweet melody.

The sheer power, scope and energy of this music, whether suppressed and circling madly round itself in insane woodwind passages, or released through huge shudders of brass, percussion and strings, was a sound and sight to behold -the orchestra, though upstaged by the CBSO in a new CD of the work, did a fine job here at least.

And van Keulen, still reeling off the arpeggios to the end, was cheered home like a marathon winner.