MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.

Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny

  • Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs

Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb




PROM 46 -  Detlev Glanert, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich: Denis Matsuev (piano), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Semyon Bychkov, Royal Albert Hall, London, 19.8.2009 (BBr)

Detlev Glanert: Shoreless River (2008) (BBC co–commission with WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, and National Symphony Orchestra, Washington DC: UK première)

Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, op.43 (1934)

Shostakovich: Symphony No.11 in G minor, The Year 1905, op.103 (1056/1957)

Glanert’s new piece was the fifth première I have attended at this year’s Proms and, in many respects, it was the most satisfying. Glanert is a pupil of Henze and he has written in every genre, including opera, and there are three Symphonies – the third and the orchestral work Theatrum bestiarum being premièred at the Proms in 1996 by the BBC Scottish and by this orchestra in 2005 repectively, so he is known to this audience. Glanert’s voice is richly romantic, and he uses a full palatte when creating for the orchestra; Shoreless River is no exception. This new work is a “pre-quel” (to use Hollywood terminology) to his forthcoming opera Das Holzschiff (The Wooden Ship), but, the composer tells us, although the opera (and thus this work) is based on Hans Henry Jahnn’s Shoreless River, the music does not have to be understood as programmatic.

Starting with bells, and the sound of bells is never far from the music, and grey, mysterious sounds from the lower strings, Glanert proceeds to build a structure, which is quite impressionistic, alternating fast and slow music until he unleashes the full force of the orchestra, with some resplendent brass writing, and a percussion led cadenza style passage, before the music returns to the gentle sounds of the opening with solo violins and ending with the solitary sound of the bell.

This is fine stuff indeed; brilliantly orchestrated, well designed and the whole carried out with the ear of a master in charge. Interestingly, the lavish percussion section was used with some restraint and, in view of the overuse of percussion in some of the other premières I have heard, this was an object lesson in just how effective the percussion section can be when its part is so carefully placed. The packed audience responded enthusiastically to the work and it is very re–assuring to know that contemporary composers can still speak directly to their listening public. However, it’s odd that in this season with its many multiple piano events, Detlev Glanert’s Double Piano Concerto, which BBC Scotland premièred last year, wasn’t included. It deserves a London première.

After this, almost, Mahlerian experience, Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody seemed rather small scale. Denis Matsuev played magnificently, essaying the fiendish solo part with ease, but both he and conductor Semyon Bychkov appeared detatched in their interpretation; I felt that neither of them were totally comfortable with the piece. Thus I found the performance to be lacking in emotional force, the huge romantic assault which is the famous 18th variation was missing, and the frantic race to the end in the final 5 variations felt just like that – a race rather than a culmination and summing up.

The Shostakovich 11thSymphony, however, received an almost perfect performance. For too long this work has been seen as being too cinematic, and somewhat naïvely obvious. I hope that this attitude is now past and we can hear the work for what it is, warts and all, a fine symphonic achievement. Basing his music on various revolutionary songs, Shostakovich creates four tableaux which each have a relevance to the abortive 1905 Russian Revolution.

The first movement, given here with such quiet intensity, and with an authority which was more than mere interpretation, depicts the Palace Square where the striking workers went to deliver a petition to the Tsar on 9 January – the second movement – and the troops opened fire on the crowd killing over 1000. This is probably the most picturesque of the four movements with drums depicting the gunfire and the full orchestra screaming in torment. The slow third movement – Eternal Memory – is an elegy for the dead, and the finale – The Tocsin – is a call to arms, banal at times, maybe, but what a conclusion! The much missed John Pritchard gave a fine performance of this work, with this orchestra, some time ago and showed the intellectual strength of the piece. Tonight, Bychkov went for the emotional jugular and brought off as fine a performance as one could hope for. The BBC Symphony was on top form with excellent playing from all concerned especially cor anglais player Alison Teale whose important contribution was especially welcome and noteworthy.

Bob Briggs  


Back to Top                                                  Cumulative Index Page