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PROMS 2002

PROM 19 - Rodion Shchedrin Two Tangos by Albeniz, Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1, Rachmaninov Symphony No 2, Ilya Gringolts vn; BBC Philharmonic, Vassily Sinaisky, RAH, Saturday 3 August 2002 (SD)

 

Russia before and after the revolution, and a link with the season's Spanish theme in a recent Russian take on two Albeniz tangos, all conducted by the BBC Philharmonic's Russian-born principal guest conductor Vassily Sinaisky.

According to Rodion Shchedrin, his Albeniz arrangements were inspired by his wife, former Bolshoy ballerina Mayya Plisetskaya in the same way as his Carmen Suite 30 years earlier. The original Albeniz works, one from his Espana Suite and the other the second of his Morceaux caracteristiques, evoke Southern Spain rather than the dance halls of Argentina, although at times the music seemed to me more French, or Ravelian, than Spanish - a sentiment also expressed by Sinaisky. The mood in both tangos is often sombre, with mournful woodwind harmonies and a sinuous, sultry oboe leitmotif in the first. Jazzy trumpet solos lighten the mood, and there is a surprise ending to the second which Sinaisky and Philharmonic pull off with great aplomb.

If Shchedrin's tangos were tinged with melancholy, Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto is positively suicidal: the work makes no attempt at false jubilation or jauntiness. The composer was at work on the Concerto in February 1948 when the famous Central Committee 'anti-distortion' resolution was passed. The resolution was to cost him his teaching posts at the Moscow and Leningrad Conservatories, but it seems to have had no effect on his Violin Concerto, which he withheld until the political thaw in 1953. The four movement titles (Nocturne, Scherzo, Passacaglia and Burlesca, plus cadenza) belie the 'symphonic thinking' behind the work, as its dedicatee David Oistrakh put it. 'The performer plays a pithy, 'Shakespearean' role which demands complete emotional and intellectual involvement [as well as ample virtuosity]'. Ilya Gringolts was equal to all those demands. If his sound is not perhaps as big as it might be, he produced a dark, intense and deeply heartfelt account from the beginning, gliding in on the G and gradually ascending a tortured path to brilliant climactic notes in the angular Nocturne. Moving to the music in the Scherzo's frenetic dance of death, this svelte violinist reminded me of the similarly boyish Nigel Kennedy. In the lyrical, more peaceful Passacaglia, violin and orchestra threatened to get out of synch but Gringolts remained intensely focused throughout, bringing off the punishing cadenza with panache, if not with Vengerovian swagger.

After such gut-wrenching, Rachmaninov's Second seemed almost tame at first in the hands of this team, their lush and highly accomplished performance too easy in its fluency. But Rachmaninov can always be relied on to break in on the music, just when it is getting too comfortable, with a startling call to arms. Sinaisky steered the orchestra effortlessly through these many swift changes of gear as one who could conduct the work in his sleep, summoning a very powerful body of orchestral sound with exquisite solos from around the orchestra, notably the clarinet's long-breathed line in the Adagio.

Sarah Dunlop


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