We were in Bristol on Sunday to hear the Philharmonia Orchestra , conducted by Lorin Maazel. I see they are together again at London’s Royal Festival Hall tonight and travel to Athens for a concert there on Saturday. British orchestras work hard and, with the severe cuts in arts funding in the U.K. (in Newcastle, for example, all funding has been abolished), they have no option but to keep working, though to the great profit of their audiences in the metropolis and around the country. We heard the Philharmonia with the same conductor in Frankfurt two years ago and always enjoy their annual visits to Bristol. Modern British orchestras are versatile as well as busy. Last month the Philharmonia gave an Anniversary Gala in London to mark the 50th Anniversary of the James Bond movies and the screening of the latest film, ‘Skyfall’ (…I thought the film mad, but entertaining ).
Glancing at a various concert programmes, there seems to be an emphasis these days on Russian music, and Sunday’s programme was no exception.
Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony (The Pathetique) was the main work and it was given a disciplined but passionate performance. The strings particularly were quite wonderful. Many of the audience were caught out by the climactic ending to the third movement, and began to applaud, their enthusiasm quickly fading as Maazel stood sentinel waiting for hush before the fourth movement. He did not approve. Nor do I. This happens frequently at BBC Prom concerts, and yet it may mean that some people never have heard the music before and spontaneously show their excitement. And that can’t be a bad thing.
The other composer who seems to be on a lot of programmes just now, is Prokofiev who although regarded in his early days as a dissonant ‘avant-garde’ composer is now more closely linked to the Russian tradition of the nineteenth century nationalists.
He has been described as a romantic melodist and his operatic and ballet music highlights the drama and colour of his work and his brilliant use of the orchestra. I am no music critic, but I find there is a lack of heart and warmth in what I know of his music. And yet I have been overwhelmed by his Romeo and Juliet music, as I was on this occasion when some of the extracts of the ballet suite were played. We also heard his 2nd Violin Concerto performed by Vadim Repin with the sort of cool brilliance that rather confirms my feeling about the composer’s emotional detachment.