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 PROM 72: Mendelssohn, Read Thomas and Beethoven: Jennifer Koh (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jĭrí Bĕlohlávek (conductor), BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London 9.9.2009 (CR)

The Albert Hall was once again full for this programme of Mendelssohn, Augusta Read Thomas and Beethoven. The overture and incidental music from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Nights Dream opened the concert, forming the final part of the Proms’ celebration of the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The Overture, composed when Mendelssohn was only seventeen years old began with well placed and carefully balanced woodwind chords and continued its magical journey into Shakespeare’s world with sparkling violin-depicted fairies, tutti donkeys and sumptuously melodic representations of the lovers. The Scherzo is perhaps one of Mendelssohn’s best loved works, and received a flighty and dramatic performance in tonight’s concert, a sense of light elegance. The Nocturne’s opening gave a chance for horns to shine, with a beautifully balanced chorale. The last of the selection was a clearly performed rendition of the famous Wedding March, the orchestra performing with triumphant splendour.

Augusta Read Thomas is an American composer whose music is indelibly connected with poetry. Nuance is an important element in her work and she gives many descriptive terms in her scores. The third violin concerto, Juggler in Paradise received its UK premiere this evening with Jennifer Koh as soloist. Read Thomas’s interest in colour is apparent in her music, using smaller combinations of players within the orchestra to create a chamber music feel. The Paradise of the title is depicted through bell sounds from percussion, piano and celeste, and the piece is heard in one movement. Read Thomas cites Takemitsu, Varese, Knussen, Andersen, Benjamin and jazz music as influences for her writing. This is an orchestra of soloists, with the individual colours of each instrument contributing to the balance of the overall sound. There were some enjoyable moments of beauty within this piece and some intricate delicacies which were enticing, and a wonderful performance by violinist Jennifer Koh,

A lacklustre Beethoven 6 proved something of a disappointment after the interval, with dragging tempos giving the work a sense of weighty trudging through the countryside rather than a gentle stroll. The clean lines were performed with a good sense of balance, however, and there were some enjoyable woodwind solos. Beethoven’s striking storm depiction gathered some dramatic momentum, but still failed to wake the few audience members around me who were sleeping through the performance. Despite the tempo, however, there was some excellent playing from the orchestra with a well balanced sound and some delicate phrasing.

Carla Rees


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