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Proms 2009: Prom 15 – Martinu Concerto for 2 Pianos \ Stravinsky Petrushka \ BBC Symphony Orchestra \ Belohlavek

July 27, 2009

I wasn’t in the best of moods when I sat down to listen to Prom 15 at the Royal Albert Hall this evening. Uppermost in my mind was a deep sense of guilt sitting in the Grand Tier overlooking the stage.

Technically speaking they are the best seats in the house. It’s hear you can hear the performers play best. Those of us who dream about what it’s like working in TV presentation get the chance to look on the area Charles Hazlewood normally occupies during a live BBC Four broadcast. And it’s a very short walk to an underused lavatory where there’s little chance of queue.

Despite all of this, I didn’t especially feel relaxed. In part this was down to really rather wanting to be in the arena. Technically I should have felt superior. In reality I felt a little shabby.

My sense of unhappiness deepened during the concerto for 2 pianos by Martinu. The sight of two pianos occupying the front of the stage and the occasional bit of syncopation in the solo lines in the first movement made me think I should like the work more, but there was something in the music which failed to hold my attention. I checked with the people around me after the applause died down. Pretty much everyone else around me agreed (even if the interview we did in the corridor suggests otherwise).

What Martinu’s work did succeed in doing was highlighting just how brilliant an orchestrator Stravinsky obviously was as demonstrated in the second half of the concert. The BBC Symphony Orchestra were in fine form with an unexpected comedy contra-bassoon and some serious sawing away in the strings.

Gripping and dramatic, tonight performance reminded me of one thing: even though experience has repeatedly proved otherwise, I shouldn’t jump to the conclusion I’ll find Stravinsky’s music difficult to listen to. Just give me strong ideas, clearly orchestrated and energetically executed and I’ll happily go in search of more.

Listen to the Martinu here and the sparkling performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka here.

One Comment
  1. I thought the Martinu was first rate: the slow movement clearly didn’t grip the audience who coughed a lot (always a bad sign in slow movement i think). But it was full of Martinu’s telltale bitter sweet harmonies and idiomatic colouring. And such precision from the soloists playing all those long and complicated runs trying to stay in sync with each other and the orch – it had oodles heart and soul put into it I think.

    I thought the Dance Suite was the highlight of the night: tremondous power and control from conductor and orchestra alike. Shame Petrushka was the 1947 score, but it was really well done, but it was the Bartok that got my pulse racing.

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