The young conductor
Ilan Volkov is clearly making quite an impression with the BBC Scottish
Symphony Orchestra (he took over from Osmo Vänskä at the beginning
of this year). The standard of playing was quite remarkable, in a carefully
considered and balanced programme. Nice also to have a contemporary
work balanced by an underplayed masterpiece in the first half, with
Shostakovich’s mighty Tenth in the second.
Weir’s 17-minute The Welcome Arrival of Rain (2001-2), inspired
by a passage from the Hindu Bhagavata Purana, celebrates the
sudden fertility the monsoon brings in its wake in India. It was commissioned
by the Minnesota Orchestra, and here received its UK premiere. Volkov
conducted clearly, demonstrating an acute ear for detail. There were
some perhaps surprising influences on Weir’s language. The Janácek
of the Sinfonietta kept on rearing up; an evocation of open spaces
in long-breathed melodies ushered in the spirit of Copland.
from the beginning’s jewelled brass fanfares, the high standard of performance
was evident. The orchestra was well disciplined and Volkov’s conducting
was clear and confident. The brass section, frequently in the foreground
here, excelled, particularly the trumpets. But, although the stopwatch
claimed 17 minutes, the piece seemed so much longer due to an adherence
to over-repetition of musical material.
complete contrast, Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129
(1850) emerged triumphant. The piece is still woefully under-rated
and under-performed, so it was wonderful to welcome Heinrich Schiff
to the Albert Hall to champion it (he has recorded it with the BPO and
Haitink, currently on Philips 470 250-2). Schiff’s tone was projected
with perfect judgement, carrying the lyricism easily to the back of
the hall. His playing of the slow movement was extremely heartfelt,
as tender as one could possibly be in this vast acoustic space. Throughout
both of these movements, however, there was a nagging doubt that the
orchestra had not been convinced of the piece’s worth. The playing was
certainly neat, but it was not completely committed. Maybe those (few)
passages that Schiff could not save (occasionally the music can meander)
put them off.
finale revealed Schiff to be less technically secure (admittedly it
is fiendish). But in the final analysis, this was a memorable reading
of a piece that deserves more frequent airing.
to note that the programme notes for Shostakovich’s Tenth were by Gerard
McBurney: I have heard McBurney give a pre-concert talk on this symphony,
and many of the salient, and perceptive, points were reproduced here.
The actual performance brought the very best out of the BBC’s Scottish
orchestra. Initially, the tempo for the first movement (marked ‘Moderato’)
seemed too fast, despite the sensitive handling. But it fitted in perfectly
with Volkov’s long-range interpretation, which brought some truly superb
solo clarinet playing along the way. In fact, Volkov seemed to keep
the finale in his sights throughout. Only the third movement seemed
to display a loss of energy; the second movement was a virtuosic parody,
fast and furious (the violins were extremely well-drilled).
triumphs and a disappointment sums up this Prom, my first of this season.