Review: BBC Prom 65 - Elgar, Berkley, Rachmaninov & Kodály - Royal Albert Hall, London

Saturday 3rd September 2011 - 7pm
BBC Prom 65 - Elgar, Berkley, Rachmaninov & Kodály - Royal Albert Hall, London
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Jac Van Steen.

The night starts with a rendition of Elgar’s ‘Cockaigne (In London Town)’, Overture, Op 40.

Edward Elgar, one of the great English Composers, is a favourite at the Royal Albert Hall, with a room dedicated to him. So it is no wonder his homage to London is greatly received by the audience.

Jac van Steen, the Principal Guest Conductor, brings the performance to life. He is full of expression and emotion, those befitting a mime, perhaps he was one in a past life. You cannot help but smile as he controls the orchestra with the subtle movement of his face and exaggerated gesticulation.

David Goode
Photo by Malcolm Crowthers
Elgar is followed by Michael Berkeley and the Organ Concerto. The Organ Concerto seems to transport you into the middle of a 1980s horror film. It starts with a beat, you look around to see where it has come from. It is followed by another beat, a third and a fourth. The chimes then sound to alert you it has begun. The ‘horror film’ turns into a ‘Sci-Fi film’. It lasts 20 minutes, with David Goode at the organ.
Berkeley describes the piece; ‘the liturgy of Easter pervades the spirit of the Organ Concerto; the bringing of light after darkness and the purifying power of fire’.
The audience is mixed in their appreciation of Berkeley. He is a modern composer and a risk taker. He tries to evoke a dramatic mood, which he carries off with great precision but it is not to everybody’s taste. If you like contemporary music, you will like Berkeley. But if you prefer pre- 1945 styles, then you may find Berkeley too progressive.

After Dracula meets Sci-Fi a break is needed and luckily food and drinks are available (though at a fairly high price).
An orange juice or Asahi (a popular dry beer) later and the second half commences with the Rhapsody on a Theme of Pagnini. Op.43, by Sergey Rachmaninov.

Marc-André Hamelin joins the Orchestra, seated at a beautiful grand piano.
The Rhapsody is a set of 24 variations of Nicolò Paganini's Caprices for solo violin, interwoven with the Dies irae.
When Ian Fleming wrote ‘From Russia with Love’ he meant this. The performance carries your heart. It is full of emotion and you cannot help but tap along to it. It is like a little love story and the audience loves it. It generates the greatest applause of the night.

Principal Guest Conductor
Jac Van Steen
The night draws to a close with Háry János- Suite composed by Zoltán Kodály, a leader in the transformation of Hungarian music. The suite is based on a 19th Century comic The Veteran by János Garay. It details five points in his life including the Battle and Defeat of Napoleon. The cimbalom, a popular instrument in Hungary, is used throughout the performance.
Between each movement is a pause, which is filled by a compulsory cough or two. It seems the audience hold their coughs for these moments of silence. Another point to note is that if you are unsure when to clap, wait for everyone else or wait for the conductor to bow, that is the safest bet. The suite is 24 minutes long but it is so enjoyable you hardly notice.

A great night with four great performances. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales and all involved did justice to the composers and I would like to thank them for a fantastic night at the Proms!

Review by Unsa Chaudri

You can listen to the prom over on BBC iPlayer HERE