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Seen and Heard Prom Review


PROM 56: Brahms and Liszt Nikolaj Znaider, violin, BBC Philharmonic, Gianandrea Noseda, conductor, Royal Albert Hall, 26 August, 2005 (CC)



The Brahms Violin Concerto sets a formidable challenge for any soloist. Young Polish-Israeli Danish-born Nikolaj Znaider has been establishing quite a reputation for himself on disc (the coupling of Prokofiev Second with the Glazunov has been especially praised, RCA 74321 87454-2). On a simple note-for-note level Znaider has few problems (he's good at stopping, which is particularly fortuitous in this concerto). But elsewhere...


After an assertive beginning, doubts began to creep in about Znaider's projection. Even in the stalls one had to strain to hear the solo line far too often. As the music progressed, it became obvious that this rather hard-pressed performance robbed the first movement of any autumnal quality. Znaider's playing was even unsuave, pointing, one might have thought, towards a deliberately deconstructionist approach, an approach that can certainly bear fruit in the right hands (read Sinopoli). Here, however, the whole thing just sounded aloof, if not rather dead. Znaider kept his best playing for the cadenza (Joachim). Just a shame it was all ruined by the orchestra rejoining him with a bump and an ensuing race to the finish line.


Actually the most impressive participants in this first movement had been the woodwind (principal oboe Jennifer Galloway in particular). Galloway's tone in the oboe solo for the Adagio was pure joy; Znaider's account of the solo line was characterized by a fairly sweet tone and a general feeling of the insubstantial, as if the Znaider-Brahms link was only intermittently active. The finale found all parties lacking backbone and dynamism. A neat, accurate and thoroughly uninspired coda summed the performance up perfectly.


Liszt's Faust Symphony is surely a masterpiece. But it is one of those masterpieces that requires utmost dedication from the performers to persuade one that such is the case. Bombast is the result otherwise, plus not a little boredom. This was the first Proms performance of the original version (i.e. without tenor soloist or chorus). Unfortunately, the entire performance had something of a feel of the run-through about it. There was little mystery to the first movement (which depicts Faust), although an honourable mention should go to principal violist Stephen Bernard's excellent contributions. He'd been practising, anyway. Lisztian repetitions can easily lose momentum in the wrong hands, and they certainly lost it here.


If the second movement gave a fair portrait of femininity (it is given over to Gretchen), with some areas approaching if not achieving radiance, the finale (Mephistopheles, who has no theme of his own but merely distorts what is around him) merely aspired to grotesquerie without achieving it. The close in this original 1854 version, instead of the choral hymn to the Eternal Feminine, moves to a warm bath of Gretchen material. Interesting to hear it, but it would be good to hear it again in a performance that actually believed in the quality of Liszt's inspiration.



Colin Clarke



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