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PROMS 2002

PROM 8: Henze, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, Paul Lewis (piano), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Paul Daniel, Royal Albert Hall, 25th July, 2002. (ME)


The main draw for this well-balanced programme was the piano soloist, Paul Lewis, who had been scheduled to appear during the last night of last year’s Proms, and he did not disappoint. Before the Beethoven Third, we heard the first performance at the Proms of Henze’s ‘Fandango sopra un basso del Padre Soler’, the originating harpsichord fandango of which was described by the composer as being influenced by the Moorish sound-world and the spirit of Iberian folk dance, a spirit strongly reflected in Henze’s work, with its swirling melodies and sometimes frenetic pace. As Paul Daniel cavorted in his frock coat, I’m sure that many members of the audience could not help wondering, as I was, what he had been thinking this week about the fate of his major musical home, and what he plans to do about it. Has the vicious timing of the ENO board’s announcement prevented any useful protest, or will Mr Daniel be inspired to take a leaf out of Bernard Haitink’s book and threaten all but a plague of locusts unless the ENO gets a decent deal? One can only hope.

Paul Lewis spent some time as a pupil of Alfred Brendel, so comparisons are de rigueur, but Brendel’s influence upon him is very slight, his true musical precursors being Solomon and Wilhelm Kempf. It was once said of the former, "Of what is known in this day and age as showmanship, there was no trace in his playing, nor did he seek to stamp the music with his own personality: there was no suggestion that ‘This is my Bach or this is my Beethoven.’ He was the medium between the composer and the listener." The same might be said of Lewis; whilst his attack during the Allegro lacked neither brilliance nor panache, his interpretation was guided by the music rather than any desire to show off. The greatest pianists, in my view, reveal themselves, as do the greatest string quartets, within the slow movements, and so it was here. The melancholy, ruminative Largo with its elaborate writing was played with real delicacy as well as a Kempf-like management of the tensions inherent in the phrasing, and the same kind of heightened control was evident in the Rondo. His huge ovation was well deserved.

The evening’s main work was Vaughan Williams’ Fourth Symphony, the composer’s aggressive, angular answer to those who dismissed him as a writer of ‘cowpat’ music. After the first rehearsal of the work, Vaughan Williams remarked, "I don’t know whether I like it, but it is what I meant." – Paul Daniel had obviously decided that what he meant was anger and frustration, possibly that of an older composer challenged not by the historical context of the work, but by the disturbing newness of the music of his younger contemporaries. Daniel and the orchestra hurled themselves at the music, particularly in the Scherzo and the Finale with its rugged brass and fugal conclusion, and although I cannot say that this is a symphony which I am eager to hear again soon, this performance made as strong a case as could be imagined for its place in the canon of great twentieth-century works.

Melanie Eskenazi

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