Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Farewell Proms, hello new season
The next time you see Jiri (and you shall pay, but not a lot), he'll be back with a stick in his hand rather than the recalcitrant 'Henry'. Chris Christodoulou's photo from That Last Night features Belohlavek and violinist Jennifer Pike as part of a hoovering quartet in Malcolm Arnold's Grand, Grand Overture. Along with David Attenborough and Stephen Hough, they were eventually shot by deerstalkers Martha Kearney, the rather more irritant Rory Bremner (who's written libretti but never heard of Villa-Lobos?), cheery Goldie and double-bassist-cum-presenter Chi-Chi Nwanoku - which in Attenborough's case, as Clive Anderson pointed out in one of his few rather restrained quips (I thought he did a good job), is a bit like shooting Mother Teresa.
Yes, mebbe the silliness is very British, but if you're going to do a flag-waving second half, you might as well start it off like this. And that underrated one-off Arnold works his usual wonders on an outrageously over the top big tune. Worth watching? Take it or leave it.
You'll have gathered it took me a week to wade through bits of the Last Night marathon. Although even that's all over now, immortal fragments are left behind on YouTube. I extolled La Connolly in the first half below, have to say that the Gershwin wasn't quite right but still, 'Rule, Britannia!' has never been delivered with that sort of panache, and it gave her a chance to flash about her Handelian ornamentation.
What a good figurehead for a brassy lady (in the orchestral sense) is Alison Balsom. Yes, she's a gorgeous blonde, no, she ain't anything like the trumpet's answer to That Jenkins Woman, thank God. They forced on us a bit of La Jenks murdering 'Una voce poco fa' in Hyde Park, and I think must deliberately have chosen the worst (worse still, though, was a wildly out of tune Chris De Burgh in Salford). No wonder oor Alison rejects the comparison with the busty Welsh one - and in any case, she's far more natural-looking in my opinion. While I could have taken or left the Villa-Lobos in the first half, I thought she did as good a job on the Piazzolla Libertango arrangement as she had on the Haydn.
I like this little film because it also spotlights a few of my new-found mates in the BBCSO, and shows you briefly what a superb first trombonist is Helen Vollam, still the best I've ever heard in Mahler 3. Vienna Phil, please take note.
There's a fantasy 'best Prom' line-up in my head from the ones I attended. I'm afraid it's three-quarters Ravel: let's have Esa-Pekka's Ma mere l'oye and Bolero to bookend, Martha's G major Concerto one side of the interval, with Scarlatti encore to boot. And then (or before), the kaleidoscopic Martinu Concerto for two pianos as performed by fluid Czechs with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Nine-year old Lucien is still talking about it. Perhaps I could just about justify the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and Nott in Ligeti's Atmospheres to begin (and segue into Mother Goose?)
Can I have two encores? Jurowski conducting the LPO in the slow movement from Brahms One, followed by the Strauss polka so idiomatically inflected by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Then I'll have the whole Crumb programme as my Late Nighter, and JEG's Bach cantatas for breakfast. Oh, and Mahler Ten too, please...now this is getting ridiculous, so stop right there.
Anyway, I don't doubt we are in for great treats when Jiri and the BBCSO get going again. Their first programme on 3 October is a corker - Mozart 29, Gerry Finley in Mahler Knaben Wunderhorn songs and the Musorgsky/Shostakovich Songs and Dances of Death, and Martinu's First as the beginning of Belohlavek's Martinu symphonies series. I'll be giving the pre-performance talk in the Barbican Centre's Fountain Room at 6, so do come early and say hello.
I'm deep in Martinu Four at the moment, dreaming it, too, in preparation for the Building a Library on 3 October which will be followed later by a Music Matters discussion (they finally decided it was OK to let me loose on Radio 3 twice in the same day). Not too many versions, most of them Czech though alas Kubelik has vanished (got to hear that). Listening around, I haven't heard a dud Martinu work yet, not at least from the late phase on which I'm concentrating - the Serenades, the Oboe Concerto, the later piano concertos, the lovely light Three Ricercars and the buoyant endgame of Estampes. What a master, so utterly unpredictable and himself; even when he brings up that Czech syncopated dance-mode for the umpteenth time, he never lets it stay still for long.
So what remains is finally to make the pilgrimage to the bell tower in Policka where Martinu was born.
Apparently the ideal day trip is to set out from Brno, take in Smetana's birthplace and theatre, and head on to Policka. Couldn't deviate from Tommi and Martha's marvellous Austrian 'programme' back in August, so will have to try harder next time.
Incidentally, in case you're wondering why I've gone quiet on the opera front, I'm hugely looking forward to seeing Ligeti's Le grand macabre on its second outing at ENO. I'm giving the Royal Opera Don Carlo a miss this time as I didn't think much of Hytner's production in the first place, Kaufmann ain't my idea of an Italian tenor - though evidently he'd be better than Villazon on last showing - and Poplavskaya is still in place. I think I read that Anja Harteros, the real Verdian thing among sopranos, will sing Elisabetta in 2010, so that's the one I'm waiting for.