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Seen and Heard Prom Review




PROM 18: Adams, Corigliano, Prokofiev, Joshua Bell (violin), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, Royal Albert Hall, 28 July, 2005 (MB)



The centrepiece of this Prom was the UK premiere of John Corigliano’s The Red Violin, music in part derived from the composer’s score from the film of the same name. The film tells the story of a violin through the eyes of various owners over some three centuries, and Corigliano’s concerto, which he describes as in the same ‘tradition as the great Romantic concertos’, works in a similar way.  Taking functional devices – such as the opening, Bach-inspired Chaconne – Corigliano pours centuries of technique into a work which even retains the balance of a traditional Nineteenth century concerto. At 17 minutes in length, the opening movement has the same taut structure as concertos by Beethoven and Brahms, with succeeding movement’s applying a musical equilibrium and mood to balance it.


The Baroqueness of the Chaconne does owe its symmetry to Bach’s D minor Chaconne from his Partita No.2, but also evident are a Mendelssohnian second movement, a nocturne-like third movement which recalls Shostokovich and a final movement which could recall any composer’s idiom in making virtue of the technical possibilities of the violin itself.


Musically, Corigliano has always been one of the most original voices in contemporary American music, and this concerto is a fine example of his style. The shimmering orchestration, the neo-Romanticism of the scoring, the exquisite dynamic range, the energy and depth which contrast frequently are hallmarks of Corigliano’s mature style. There is a focussed attention to placing the violin and orchestra against each other, as if in a duel (contrast this with both the Adams and the Glass violin concertos and Corigliano’s is effortlessly more musical), and its virtuosity is of a somewhat different scale. Bell’s formidable technique made much of the frequent double-stopping, cross string bowing and double harmonics. Likewise, Corigliano’s willingness to abandon pitch altogether seemed innately musical when it might otherwise have swung the other way. Sometimes, especially in the third and fourth movements, Bell’s tone seemed unable to ride over the formidable power of Corigliano’s orchestration (and Alsop did not compromise here either) but there was never any doubting that he had the essence of the work’s long line in his vision.


Two works of vastly different rhythmic styles framed the concerto, John Adams’ The Chairman Dances and Alsop’s own suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Adams’ monotony – which really does become grating at times – allowed Alsop to dance on the podium, even if at times the Bournemouth players were dancing to a quite different tempo. The Prokofiev fared much better. Here, Alsop took a slightly darker view than the usual suites – playing up the human and emotional tragedy of the drama at the expense of the overtly balletic. The opening ‘Montagues and Capulets’ stated quite early this conductor’s intent on allowing climaxes to explode rather than blossom, and yet while she held the power in reserve well enough sometimes one felt that dynamics struggled to be heard. There were beautifully phrased woodwind solos in some of the less power-driven excerpts (‘Masks’, ‘Dance of the Antilles Girls’ and ‘Aubade’) but in general Alsop and her orchestra were best in the drama and tragedy of the ballet. The ‘Death of Tybalt’ began rather blandly but concluded with some shattering sonorities (and what wonderfully fatal timpani strokes she summoned from her player) but best was the beautifully phrased string playing in the ballet’s two concluding numbers, ‘Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb’ and ‘Juliet’s Death’.  In both, a sense of pathos was crafted and it worked marvellously.



Marc Bridle

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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)