RAVEL: Mother Goose Suite
GLAZUNOV: Violin Concerto
PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 4 (1947 version)
FINDING the correct balance between the safe crowd-pleasers and the less well-known and unjustly neglected parts of the classical repertoire must be a constant headache for the BSO’s management. In last night’s concert, three works that deserve more regular outings were combined to form an outstandingly interesting programme. Was the hall two-thirds full (good news) or one-third empty (bad news)?
The concert started with an immaculately-prepared performance of Ravel’s 1911 suite Ma mère l’oye (Mother Goose). Originally written as a series of piano duets for children, Ravel orchestrated the pieces with his usual flair and originality. Eliminating heavy brass, Ravel uses prominent woodwind and percussion supported by often sensitively hushed strings. The audience was spellbound by the rapt atmosphere created by Karabits’s control of the large orchestra to create the most delicate effects.
Next came the rarely-heard Violin Concerto by the Russian composer Glazunov. Although written in 1905, this is a thoroughly nineteenth-century concerto in tone and atmosphere, for all its structural innovations and experiments. It was given a whole-hearted and committed performance by the Israeli virtuoso Vadim Gluzman. Remarkably, he was playing a Stradivarius violin of 1690 played by the Hungarian Leopold Auer in the concerto’s very first performance one hundred and nine years ago. This was the third or fourth time Gluzman has soloed with the BSO, and their rapport was striking. He also enjoyed working with Karabits for the first time, although, as he told me the next day in an interview, he is still getting used to working with conductors younger than himself!
The final piece on the programme was Prokofiev’s rarely-heard but immediately striking and dramatic 4th Symphony. We heard the 1947, extended version of the symphony, which was first written in 1930. Revised after the 5th and 6th, we heard echoes of the dark orchestration of those works with brooding basses and trombones. The driving energy of the allegro eroico in the first movement seemed to conjure up the industrialisation and Stakhanovite energy of Stalin’s Soviet Union while simultaneously satirising them: like Shostakovich, Prokofiev lived much of his life on a precarious tightrope, where one ideological slip could literally mean death. Miraculously, both composers produced music which transcended the circumstances of its composition and this symphony certainly deserves far more than the occasional dusting-off. We look forward keenly to the performance of the similarly-neglected 6th symphony on 29th April next year, and the subsequent recordings.