fri 22/09/2017

Prom 70 review: Denk, BBCSO, Canellakis - high, lucid and bright | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 70 review: Denk, BBCSO, Canellakis - high, lucid and bright

Prom 70 review: Denk, BBCSO, Canellakis - high, lucid and bright

Bartók and Dvořák shine like new in the hands of two live-wire interpreters

Karina Canellakis: letting two masterpieces speakAll images by Chris Christodoulou/BBC

It can’t be too long before “women” no longer needs to prefix “conductors” to define what’s still a rare breed. Yet seven at the Proms is certainly an improvement, with many more coming up through the ranks. And American Karina Canellakis turned out to be very much the season’s final trump card. She seemed precise and watchful in a new work and in getting the BBC Symphony Orchestra to keep perfect tabs on live-wire Jeremy Dank in Bartók’s dizzying Second Piano Concerto (he watched, too, in return). But it was Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony which defined the Canellakis style – keenly-spring and lucid, encouraging bags of personality from the players.

Opening spotlight was on Missy Mazzoli (pictured below with Canellakis and the orchestra), whose opera on Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves has earned plaudits in the States (it deserves a point, even before we've heard a note on this side of the pond, simply for tackling a subject altogether more interesting than those of the literary-heritage operas proliferating over there). She certainly packs a lot of sounds into the 12-minute scope of Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), with brass tuckets enlivening generic string textures which include the kind of folkish melismas beloved of James MacMillan. Depth? Probably not, and the low brass chords towards the end went and spoilt it with a film-music cliché. But at least this was a new work with an inner life of its own.Canellakis and Mazzoli at the PromsInner life and individuality are always the essence of any interpretation by Denk (pictured below). He tackled Bartók’s ferocious, high-speed yet still heavyweight virtuoso demands like a wild bear adept at the odd entrechat, and en-pointe delicacy could always take us by surprise. The Albert Hall is a lethal space for a piece that needs razor-sharp rapport between soloist and orchestra, yet Canellakis and Denk between them brought it off as Simon Rattle and Denis Kozhukhin earlier in the summer had not in what seemed like an under-rehearsed Barbican performance. She mostly beat time, leaving little leeway for visible personality at this stage, but the BBC wind and brass saw to that. The supernatural flares at the heart of the slow movement, with its fiendish piano chord clusters against weird shrieks and cries, absolutely fizzed. And timpanist Christopher Ridley sent thunder round the hall in the outer panels of the movement, a dialogue with the piano which worked best in this venue, before catching the bouncing-ball effect of the racy finale to exciting effect.

Denk's encore was an exquisite application of his double consciousness to Mozart's Andante from the Piano Sonata K545 by way of total contrast. His unique take on it ranged from the crystalline possibilities of the modern grand, on the cusp of silence, to an occasional fortepiano-ish effect to lift the melodic line. Perfection.Jeremy Denk at the PromsCanellakis’s Dvořák was high, lucid and bright from start to finish. Brisk but never rushing, she always allowed the woodwind their characterful voice through the textures and space to achieve their Bohemian magic, from the new dawn of Michael Cox’s peerless flute solo through some unconventional but convincing phrasing in the mysteries of the slow movement through to the roll of clarinets in the finale. And if the soulful waltz-scherzo seemed a bit straight at first, it got its extra lift on the reprise, capped by a delicious chatterbox coda. As with the Bartók, you were left to gasp at the invention of the music – not a slack moment in either masterpiece. It takes very good conducting indeed not to get in the way of that sense of wonder. And, with only the Last Night to come for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, what a brilliant season it's been for them.

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