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PROM 13: Elgar and DvořŠk, Pinchas Zukerman (violin) Rebecca Nash (soprano) Louise Winter (mezzo-soprano) Benjamin Hulett (tenor) Neal Davies (bass) BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Ė Andrew Davis, RAH, 25th July2004 (CT)


For a minute or so just prior to the start of this concert I found myself ruminating on the opposing polarities of conductor and soloist. Conductor Laureate of the BBC Symphony Orchestra Andrew Davis, a man rooted in the English tradition with well established Elgarian credentials and Pinchas Zukerman, Israeli born protégé of Isaac Stern and Pablo Casals, who has been resident in the United States from the age of fourteen. As in their differing backgrounds what we heard in the music were two utterly different stories.


Davis launched into the orchestral introduction of Elgarís Violin Concerto with all the fervour and commitment one would expect from a man who has always revered the composer. For their part, and entirely appropriately, the BBC Symphony Orchestra played like an orchestra who had rediscovered an old friend, alert, passionate and characterful. Yet Zukermanís first entry set the somewhat disappointing tone for the majority of his performance. Certainly the technical bravura and clarity were to be admired in a concerto that is one of the most stamina sapping in the entire repertoire yet on an emotional level the playing seemed curiously detached. Only in the central slow movement did there seem to be something approaching a marriage of minds with both orchestra and soloist producing some exquisite playing, beautifully moulded by Davis and with Zukermanís warm tone at last complimenting Elgarís heartfelt inspiration. The final Allegro molto however took us back to the shortcomings of the first movement with the soloistís crystal clear articulation giving more of the impression of a study than a masterpiece of the early twentieth century romantic tradition.


There was little doubting the stars of the second half, the meticulously prepared and ever reliable BBC Symphony Chorus, for whom Stephen Jackson deserves a medal of the highest rank. The Mass in D major Op. 86 may not be DvořŠkís best-known work but it has a useful English connection, having been performed for the first time in this orchestral version (DvořŠk had originally provided an organ accompaniment) at Crystal Palace in 1893. The quartet of soloists is not greatly exploited although tenor Benjamin Hulett shone through with particular clarity. The Chorus however, stole the show with fabulous diction and singing of seemingly boundless enthusiasm. The antiphonal exploits of the Gloria were handled with aplomb whilst the bell like sonorities of the Sanctus and its closing Hosannas rang thrillingly around the hall. As ever Andrew Davis matched them for enthusiasm all the way.


Christopher Thomas


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