thu 25/07/2024

Prom 39, Hartwig, BBCSO, Oramo review - bright and breezy followed by a curate's egg | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 39, Hartwig, BBCSO, Oramo review - bright and breezy followed by a curate's egg

Prom 39, Hartwig, BBCSO, Oramo review - bright and breezy followed by a curate's egg

Turnage and Vaughan Williams scintillate, but the soul of Elgar remains out of reach

Constantin Hartwig, with conductor Sakari Oramo and members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, enjoys an ecstatic ovationAll images by Chris Christodoulou

Two quirky concertos – one for orchestra, though it might also be called a sinfonietta – and a big symphony: best of British but, more important, international and world class. Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra sounded glorious throughout from my seat – at 7 of the Albert Hall clock if the conductor is at 12 – but the eccentric charms of Mark-Anthony Turnage and Vaughan Williams fared better than the elusive soul of Elgar.

There’s no doubt about it, Turnage’s Time Flies is a brilliant opener for any concert (and accomplished youth orchestras ought to give it a go). Co-commissioned by the BBC, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra Hamburg, its three movements, supposedly reflecting on each city, might have been a bit shorter if time wasn’t in this case money. But the burbling outer movements have their own character – a fine melody along the lines of “Girls and Boys Come Out to Play” for London, keeping its tuneful head through ingenious orchestration and key-changes, and jazzy antics that might seem more suitable for New York than Tokyo in the finale. Oramo and TurnageNothing here might not have surfaced in the 1950s – shades of Tippett, Britten, Bernstein, admirable models all for a composer who has eschewed the drear of the Darmstadt School – but there’s plenty of personality too. Top marks to the BBCSO brass, who made such handsome work of Turnage’s writing in the central, “Hamburg Time”, movement, and to soprano saxophonist Martin Robertson, clarinet-like in song, but with a twist. And of course to Oramo (pictured above with the composer), who had clearly prepared and balanced the work so well.

Consummate entertainment continued with Vaughan Williams’ Tuba Concerto, composed in 1954 for Philip Catalinet (a recording with Barbirolli exists), though it sounds, in the outer movements, closer to the tumbling 1930s worlds of the Fourth Symphony and the ballet Job. But with humour and beauty: hearts were instantly won by the gorgeous sound Dresden Staatskapelle principal and soloist Constantin Hartwig makes at the top of the register. Reception was ecstatic, though what a shame the Arena was only half full, and hardly anyone was sitting in the seats near the top of the hall. Hartwig in Vaughan WilliamsThe Albert Hall acoustics help round out the sound, too; the cadenzas were mesmerising (lovely the way VW ends the first movement with one). So was the encore, pushing the boundaries of what's possible on the tuba, though no-one I spoke to identified it despite Hartwig telling us we’d recognise it within six or seven notes. Checking in with Andrew McGregor on Radio 3, it turns out to have been Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” (am I redeemed for having instantly spotted Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” in Turnage’s “Hammered Out”?)

The BBCSO were on gleaming form, and remained so in Elgar’s First Symphony. Promise of the ideal introspection came in the first ppp of the wonderful Nobilmente e semplice melody which dominates the work, and the dreamy seven-part string passage which brackets the first-movement development had ideal flexibility, light of touch. But why did Oramo slow down for the Scherzo’s river-music trio? It still glistened, but it didn’t soar. And what should be a magical transition turning the main march scurry into the Adagio theme felt much too laboured. Sakari Oramo and BBCSOBoth this and the slow movement itself have to come across as naturally flowing, ineffable: no easy task. Boult and Barbirolli always got it; Haitink did, twice, at the Proms, first with this very orchestra, and later with Royal Opera forces (the programme also included Turnage, strangely enough). This Adagio bumped too much, and surely that ineffable coda was just too slow? And it's admirable that Oramo kept the thicker turbulences clear, but I’ve heard more sensuous-violent interpretations. So, some personal disappointment in all this; but there’s no denying the quality of delivery – the BBCSO is still at the top of its game.

Hearts were instantly won by the gorgeous sound tuba soloist Constantin Hartwig makes at the top of the register


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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I have to disagree with you about the Elgar. I have worshipped this symphony since 1970 when I was a student at the RCM. The extraordinary task of conducting this work from memory (nether Boult nor Barbirolli ever did this - nor Haitink or Barenboim) meant that Ormao delivered a hugely informed but personal performance tat blew me away. Occasionally eccentric but always well argued and with full commitment from the BBC orchestra on astonishing form. A marvellous performance of a superlative masterpiece to my mind.

With you Mr Nice. Having been privileged to be present at Tod Handley’s several performances with the LPO and the Guildford PO in the 1970s, I find his sympathy with the composer and being so totally ‘inside’ the music utterly compelling. So it’s probably not really fair to judge newer performances. Each to his own!

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