Yet – another full on Russian evening… you get the theme 😉 Even though Rach’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini was the piece that introduced me to Russian composers I had actually yet to hear it in a concert – well, tonight was the night!

The evening started with Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture ‘Hamlet’ – in theme with the Proms focus on all things Shakespearian… a dramatic, yet gentle and very intense piece of music – just like the actual book. Lots of little melodies weaving through the piece and one could tell the different characters they were meant to be portraying.

For the second piece British pianist Stephen Hough joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the illustrious Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninov. I mean, who doesn’t like this character packed piece of music?!? It was the first time I heard Stephen Hough and I was definitely impressed! His technical ability on the ivories was just remarkable! His fingers were going across the keyboard with such precision it almost seem out of this world. Yet, the feeling he put into those beautifully melodic phrases was just impeccable – you could just close your eyes and you were transported into a different world. The orchestra as well, under Alexander Vedernikov was enjoying playing the concert. The piece is not a piece of cake and it has the potential to go horribly wrong but tonight it was a sheer joy to watch this little miracle unfold in front of your eyes. Hough’s encore was almost an improvisation – it started off with the famous first few bars of Rach’s 2nd Piano Concerto but then veered into something completely different, yet totally magnificent. So there is yet another pianist (and composer) who is going on my ever growing list of names to look out for and do more research on…

After the interval – Prokofiev’s 3rd Symphony in C minor. It was the first time I have heard it – there are still quite a few symphonies that I haven’t heard yet but I am working my way through. It was an intriguing 30 odd minutes… the second movement had an almost oriental sound to it – not something that I would have expected from Prokofiev. The third movement with some interesting sounds in the string section was definitely a bit of a surprise whilst the 4th movement brought you back to Russia with deep, mysterious melodies as well as full on brass and percussion – the last few bars were just magnificent and gave you goosebumps as the were filled with such intense, dark feelings.

 

Vedernikov was a total revelation – never heard his name, let along seen him conduct before. Giving his Proms Debut he had a programme very close to his heart I would suspect as he is Russian born. There is something about his mannerism that reminds me of Lehrer Laempel out of the book Max und Moritz by Wilhelm Busch – an old fashioned school master with a certain air and poise about him, yet a very lovable character… His conducting was great to watch – he really got stuck in and got some beautiful sounds out of the BBC SO. He is a very charismatic musician who knows how to control the orchestra very well – as well as the Proms audience! There were some remarkable moments where he just held the tension in the hall that you could hear a pin drop – no doubt we will (hopefully) see a few more appearances over the next few season – I could even see him as a potential candidate for a Last Night of the Proms in the very soon future…

Even thought the audience was a little coughy tonight it didn’t spoil the concert too much – just a shame that it wasn’t recorded for TV – guess I will just have to listen again to Radio 3….

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