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Seen and Heard Prom Review



PROM 36: Weber, Chin, Bruckner, Christiane Oelze (soprano); Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Kent Nagano, Royal Albert Hall, London, 10 August, 2005 (CC)



A welcome visit from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under their almost outgoing Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Kent Nagano (neatly, he will be replaced by Ingo Metzmacher, who conducted the Prom the night after this one).


Weber's Freischütz Overture is a real test for any orchestra, and one this visiting orchestra passed with flying colours. The horns were marvellously and richly Urwaldisch, pianissimi were actually quiet. Yet interpretatively there were problems, most notably in the loss of dynamism towards the end. A rawer edge to the sound would have been welcomed in these final stages, also.


South Korean Unsuk Chin's work has impressed me in the past (Barbican review). She is currently working on an opera on Alice in Wonderland for Los Angeles Opera, and here was the European premiere of what sounds like chips off her work-bench. The inspiration for snagS & Snarls comes, of course, from Lewis Carroll. The greatest strength of Chin's response to Carroll is her brevity (just a touch under a quarter-hour). Chin opts for quite simple settings. Sprachgesang is used effectively in 'The Tale-Tail of the Mouse' (the third movement), only in the final song ('Speak roughly to your little boy') attempting to put an overtly adult slant on her text in the form of a sinister undercurrent.


Kent Nagano is in the throes of recording Bruckner for Harmonia Mundi with this orchestra. His Third (HMC901817) disappointed me, but Nagano's take on the Sixth struck me as something worse – a half-performance of a masterpiece. That we could hear the cellos' initial semiquaver anacrusis seemed to bode well, but detail soon disappeared at mezzo-forte and above. Worse, Nagano's take is too 'Gemutlich' (or to use a more modern term, 'user-friendly'), all but ignoring Bruckner's legendary structural control for a leaf-by-leaf examination of any tree that happens to be around. Many times there was the feeling that the music was simply not going anywhere – a quick check with Klemperer's Sixth, easily my top recommendation in this work (EMI GROC 562621-2), confirmed what we all knew anyway, that Bruckner is clearly in the right. Nagano missed the sheer radiance of the slow movement. An oboe solo summed it all up – excellent individual effort piercing through and scuppered by nondescript strings. Nagano seems constitutionally unable to think in paragraphs, leading the finale to emerge as mere empty rhetoric. Any sense of that vital cumulative momentum was well and truly lost as the music sagged at each and every opportunity.


Deeply disappointing Bruckner then, in a Prom that seemed to specialize in disappointments.



Colin Clarke



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