Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us


Prokofiev, Britten, Elgar/Payne, Bach/Davis, Shostakovich

Prokofiev Classical Symphony

Britten Les illuminations

Elgar/Payne Pomp and Circumstance March No. 6 (world premiere)

J.S. Bach , orch. A. Davis Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor

Shostakovich Concerto for Piano, Trumpet & Strings (Piano Concerto No. 1)

Nicole Cabell soprano
Evgeny Kissin piano
Sergei Nakariakov trumpet
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis conductor


Prom 26, Royal Albert Hall, 2 August 2006


Looking through the programme at the menu before memade me feel feeling a bit peckish as I took my seat in the Royal Albert Hall for this Prom,. Only at the Proms is one still likely be faced with such a concoction, not unlike how it was in Sir Henry's days.

Given the ingredients, the chefs in the Proms planning kitchen must have known that this tutti-frutti musical soufflé – so typical of the type they love to foist on hungry audiences – would either rise on the night or fall spectacularly. That the Elgar/Payne was a relatively late ingredient to be added into the pot - already containing three big name soloists, a ‘house' orchestra and a Proms favourite conductor - obviously had no ill effect; the hall was filled to near bursting point.

Thinking seriously, there was a barely discernible connection between the quintet of works played here. Each was born out of a seemingly unlikely pairing: Prokofiev with the spirit of Haydn, Britten with the poetry of Rimbaud, Elgar rescued by Anthony Payne, Bach orchestrated by Andrew Davis and Shostakovich's bringing together of a piano and trumpet as concerto soloists.


Davis offered a crisp and tasteful reading of the Prokofiev symphony. The wind lines were emphasised in the opening movement, before a carefully graded larghetto that brought out the ebb and flow in the orchestration rather subtly. The gavotte possessed a certain and confident swagger, even if the tempo choice for the delicately handled diminuendo seemed a touch artificial at first. A finale full of rippling pulse, outward enthusiasm and fun rounded the performance off.


Clarity of line and texture was of central importance in Davis ' approach to Britten's Les Illuminations . Stage layout lent a spatial dimension to the performance as key lines constantly played against each other, commenting back and forth, across the stage. Nicole Cabell is a promoter's dream of a singer: young and glamorous with an effortless and flexible lyric soprano voice. She's already highly accomplished at working an audience too. The work feels as if it's been in her repertoire for some time: her singing was assured, if a touch small scale for the expanse of the Royal Albert Hall, but it did carry some pleasing variation of tonal colour with it. Her Achilles Heel though at times was the French text: her desire to float the line mellifluously sometimes took preference to clarity of the text. That notwithstanding, Cabell is a singer who one hopes will be allowed to progress in her art rather than being railroaded into doing too much too soon.


Elgar's sixth Pomp and Circumstance March, as completed by Anthony Payne, displayed much awareness of the original composer's style, but anyone who expected something in the mould of the preceding marches might well have been disappointed. From a sombre, dark opening a confident striding tempo emerged that led down a richly coloured path to a broader section that flowed in a somewhat relaxed manner, before once again picking up tempo. Exuberance was notable both in the orchestration and playing with recurring dependence on fleeting wind gestures and brass flourishes to add requisite colour to the fleshed-out score. A moment of homage from Payne to Elgar was made by the inclusion of reference to the first March in the closing passages – no doubt with one eye to endearing the completion to the assembled audience, which responded with strong approva. Davis and the BBCSO reminded all of their sterling Elgarian credentials.


The orchestration of Bach by conductors is of course not unknown, and given the nature of the preceding item the inclusion of Davis' elaboration of Johann Sebastian's organ Passacaglia and Fugue , its programming in this concert might be more reasonable than in some other contexts. Whereas Payne stayed close to the spirit of Elgar, Davis showed himself more willing to explore a wider territory in tandem with Bach. The opening focussed more on creating the texture than the structure of the passacaglia, with material passed around the orchestra in a quasi-Debussian impressionistic manner. The fugue emerged from the overlayering of textures to create some depth that did bring out inner microstructures in Davis ' orchestration. In the end though the extended reliance upon strings in octaves and brass left the feeling of too much predictability. Was it perhaps too sweet for its own good?


Strange as it might be to finish a banquet with a main course, that's what happened. From the start this was an extended work for piano with trumpet and orchestra coming along for the ride. Even Shostakovich felt a bit of an afterthought at times. Like a celebrity chef, Kissin paraded his ego and divided opinions with the results of his labours. Passages were either beaten into submission or left somewhat undercooked, showing some indifference whatever he did to the score itself. Sergei Nakariakov contributed with sensitivity seated in Kissin's shadow, a position from which he stood almost no chance of making a real impact. Davis , despite some hairy moments of coordination with Kissin, led a generally astute account of the all too minimalist orchestral score. Perhaps with Shostakovich one might get away with more than with other composers, but even so this was not entirely to my taste. I left wanting a very different dish from that I had been offered and musing on what it must be like to be Evgeny Kissin. The unpredictable line between genius and madness is extraordinarily thin and in pianistic circles it's a line that he defines.


© Evan Dickerson