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PROMS 2002

PROM 60: - Brahms Violin Concerto in D major, Walton Symphony No 1 BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Richard Hickox, conductor; James Ehnes, violin, Wednesday September 4 2002, (SD)


In Walton's centenary year it was inevitable that the Proms would feature his First Symphony, whose 1935 premiere was dubbed ''a historic night for British music'. From the hushed, pregnant opening, with its spiky oboe motif, the BBC NOW really had the measure of the piece. They brought out all the work's drama, brooding menace and troubled lyricism: the manic insistence of the Allegro, the frenzied perpetuum mobile of the Scherzo (marked 'con malizia' by Walton), the heavy, reverie-like wistfulness of the melancholic Andante, and the lightness of mood of the Maestoso, with some powerful and very nifty brass playing. John Ireland's verdict on hearing the first recording, that 'this has established you as the most vital and original genius in Europe' may not be entirely borne out by Walton's subsequent career, but listening to this performance one could certainly understand what he meant: conductor and orchestra pulled out all the stops.

Tonight's soloist in Brahms' D major Violin Concerto, which opened the programme, was the Canadian violinist James Ehnes, born in 1976, who made his Proms debut last year with Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto. If the orchestra made a forthright, even muscular but rather uninspirational contribution, they supported the soloist admirably and the ensemble between violin and orchestra was superb, though the soloist can take as much credit here as the orchestra. Ehnes gave a refreshingly clean, honest and heartfelt account, projecting a beautifully bright, sweet tone throughout. His playing in the Adagio had a bewitching sheen and delicious subtlety, and his transition from the first-movement cadenza into the coda particularly magical. Only in the rollicking did the orchestra threaten to drown out the soloist (though they never quite succeeded), and Ehnes played an agile, gypsy-inspired line. No revelations here, perhaps, but a satisfyingly central performance.

Sarah Dunlop

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