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BBC Proms 2010 Prom 46

I’m just back from my first time at the proms and feel the need to write something about them more than just being a great experience.
My first impression of the hall itself was simply ‘wow’, it just seems right. Yes it is big but not too big, the misty blur that I get from large spaces (the Coliseum in Rome being the best example) didn’t happen, and because it is big I wasn’t expecting it to have such an acoustic. It took a few moments to get used to it but once I did it was perfect, quiet but perfect. When there I went to proms 45, 46 and 47 but am only going to comment on 46 in this entry and 47 on a subsequent one.
The opening to prom 46 with the Philharmonia Orchestra was Mosolov’s The Foundry (1927). Mosolov is a composer whom I have to admit I had never heard of but going on these 4 minutes of pounding industrial music. No don’t think Rammstein simply think the rhythm and sound of the machinery in a steel fabrication plant. There is no beginning to the piece, no tentative inroads on the silence that preceded it simply begins as if it has always been there grinding away or that someone has just hit ‘on’. The most spine tingling moments in the piece are when the 8 horns stand up (rather effective physical movement for the piece) and play a short melody over the incessant mechanical grinding of the rest of the orchestra. According to the programme notes by Andrew Huth The Foundry was meant as the opening to a now lost ballet consisting of a further three movements In Prison, At the Ball and In the Street. I can but hope that it is found at some point to hear what such music would lead into. Somehow I doubt it would be anything like the next piece of the concert, the UK premier and I believe only second performance of Arvo Pärt’s fourth symphony ‘Los Angeles’ (2008).
This piece is the reason I went to this prom and unfortunately it left me wanting and not in the way Pärt’s music usually does. For me Pärt’s music is the kind of music in which you sit in a darkened room, eyes closed letting it wash over you, ignoring everything. Kind of like lying on your back eyes closed in water and letting yourself drift. The piece is very typically Pärt, heavy on the strings, very slow and quite and uses his typical chord spacing to give a typical sound. Unfortunately that’s where it fell down on first listen; it was simply too typical. There was no sense of going anywhere yet no sense of languishing with intention it was caught somewhere in-between the two. Maybe on subsequent listens (at the moment its still available in BBC iplayer for 3 more days) it will be less tedious and I might pick up the drive behind the piece but for a first impression it wasn’t good.
The material did not seem to be strong enough to sustain the attention of the listener for such a long time and was in fact quite disjointed. The best example of this is after the opening section which is interrupted by the timpani comes a scale played in such a way to make me think it is a quote from a Philip Glass piece. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but it seems so out of place with what has come before and what is still to come that it jars the ear and the mind. Even with this criticism there were moments of very beautiful music, specifically the warmth of the central section with pizzicato strings and marimba.
It was quite interesting to see Pärt pretty much run up to the stage, he is almost 75 yet he doesn’t seem like he is any older than 60 the way he moves!
The next piece was Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1929-30) played by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Its an odd piece that builds from a contra bassoon solo to an orchestral tutti before half a piano comes in. The build up is such that you expect a chord in the highest and lowest registers of the piano but this is impossible because it is only written for the left hand. This lack of the ability to use 10 fingers is due to the commissioner, Paul Wittgenstein, had lost his right hand during the war. Ravel attempts to create the impression of such a chord though but unfortunately Bavouzet ruins it because in the opening flourishes there were quite a few missed notes, this was the impression I had on the night and after a little bit of research (ahh the joys of iplayer and spotify!) my firs impress was backed up. This set up the tone for the rest of the piece, it didn’t quite feel right. It seemed more of an argument between soloist and orchestra than conversation. The orchestra’s rendition of the piece I cannot fault and in fact was so good that the mistakes and problems with the soloist were forgotten about to leave me with a very good impression of the work.
Finally was Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy (1905-8), a piece that I knew existed but had never had the chance to listen to. Unfortunately I found it a little too romantic and long in its tendencies for my liking. This could have been because of the performance or the music itself but I felt it could have been a little shorter. That being said it was great to hear the great Albert Hall organ in the closing chords of the piece vibrating my seat even though I was in the circle which is an unbelievable feeling that cannot be reproduced by any recording.

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