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S & H Prom Review

PROM 41: Dukas, Chen Yi, Ravel, Evelyn Glennie (percussion), BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Yan Pascal Tortelier, RAH, 19th August 2003 (MB)


Leonard Slatkin can be one of the most erratic of conductors so his withdrawal from this Prom for personal reasons (in fact, because of an affair he had had with the evening’s soloist Evelyn Glennie), and his replacement being Yan Pascal Tortelier, made the prospect of the complete ballet music for Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe more palatable. Alas, this was not to be the case. What we got instead in the second half was one of the most lugubrious performances of the work I have heard in either concert or on record.

Coming in at just over 50 minutes it was neither a fast nor a slow performance; it just failed to ignite and the BBC Symphony Orchestra played it rather blandly as if to underscore the point that they would rather have been somewhere else. There were some beautiful textures to be heard, notably in the final reprise of the lovers’ theme, and the "General Dance’ provided the sort of orgiastic whirlpool of sumptuous decadence one hears in recordings by Munch and Monteux. But aside from this, the second movement’s ‘Warriors’ Dance’ had been underwhelming and the religiosity of the first movement was glimpsed rather than heartfelt. Occasionally brass were too trenchant, and but for some beautifully phrased woodwind playing the performance would have been even more anodyne than it was.

Tortelier replaced the scheduled Barber (Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance) with a true rarity, Dukas’ Overture ‘Polyeucte’. An early work by the composer, it perhaps lacks the inventiveness of some of his later compositions but on its own terms it is a piece that is both sumptuous and dramatic and was beautifully, if somewhat stridently, played by the BBC SO.

Chen Yi’s 1998 Percussion Concerto, receiving its European premiere at the Proms, is a work of high contrast and bold statements, a work that is a reflection not only of the composer’s musical experience but of her cultural background too. But it is, too, an anti-concerto using a smaller array of percussion than is usual in percussion concertos and, in the first movement at least, relies heavily on contributory percussion from the orchestra. The contrast between the western and the eastern is most noticeable in the middle movement ‘Prelude to Water Tune’ which requires the soloist to recite a poem by Su Shi (it would, incidentally, have been helpful had the programme included a transliteration of the poem rather than just an English translation) whilst concentrating the tonal palate mainly on the marimba and vibraphone. Ms Glennie was an ideal soloist for she also has a better than average voice (even if at times during this performance she sounded squally rather than genuinely comfortable in the upper range) but as ever her playing was electrifying, full of colour and flamboyance, especially in the fearless way she tackled the virtuoso writing of the final movement, ‘Speedy Wind’. It was certainly a much better work than the woman sat behind me thought – ‘If I never hear it again it will be too soon", she muttered.

Marc Bridle



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