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Proms 2009: Prom 63 – Xenakis \ Rachmaninov \ BBC Symphony Orchestra

September 2, 2009

View from the Choir

Prom 63 featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson was my first return to the Royal Albert Hall for what felt like a long time. The truth I had visited during the second half of last Friday’s Prom but this could easily be dismissed on account of me slightly (or possibly quite) drunk.

Returning felt a little odd, almost as though I’d given the season a second go after a painful but necessary trial separation. By the end of the concert however, it felt as though me and the season had ironed out our problems and I was ready to embrace the last few concerts before the Last Night.

The concert opened in a reassuringly challenging way with Xenakis’ Nomos Gamma. Prommers looked on with interest while 98 players from the BBC Symph dispersed around the arena led the way through the 15 minute work.

It was always going to be a strange concoction of sound – all manner of different techniques being used by the players to meet Xenakis’ exacting requirements. But aside from the unexpectedly engaging cacophany created by the split percussion section on the stage and around the edges of the arena, Nomos Gamma seemed little more than it sounded on first listen: a noise.

The second work by Xennakis – Ais for amplified singer and percussion at the beginning second half was a complete contrast. Special mention goes to baritone Leigh Melrose who carried off the unprecedented challenges presented in the vocal line and brilliant New Generation Artist Colin Currie reminding us of his obvious talent. Moments of arresting orchestration demand a second listen to this work.

Whilst it’s always a pleasure to hear anything by Shostakovich (the relative brevity of his ninth symphony was a deliberate act on the composer’s part cocking a snook at the Soviet authorities in 1945), it was the Rachmaninov The Isle of the Dead which really resonated.

On a day when the sad news of a colleague’s untimely death registered nothing but confusion, there was something strangely uplifting about the dark world Rachmaninov painted. The BBC Symphony’s poignant performance proved that for every overly sentimental composition Rachmaninov has penned there is an undiscovered gems waiting to act as the perfect epitaph.

In memory of Penny.

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