The second consecutive night with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Thomas Sondergard and another night of Shostakovich and Sibelius…The evening started with “October” being performed for the first time at the Proms. Within the first bars it was undeniably clear that this is a Shostakovich. Such intense, deep Russian soul in the music is absolutely remarkable. A beautiful symphonic poem it was composed in 1967 for one of the anniversaries of the Russian revolution. Whilst most of Shostakovichs music can be very light and varied this particular piece has a much darker side to it. Very lyrical and a distinctly Sovjet feel to it, some beautiful melodic lines. Just like the night before Sondergard got the best out of the BBCNOW and the intensity of the music just went under your skin. Especially towards the end one was almost transported to Moscow standing on the Red Square watching a parade go by. After the last bar I had to pinch myself to get back to reality.
Nicola Benedetti then joined the orchestra for Shostakovichs 1st Violin Concerto. Even though I am not a big fan of violin concertos I really like Nikki and the energy she brings to performances, especially at the Proms. 2015 I saw her with Korngolds Violin Concerto and was very much looking forward to her tackling this findishly tricky Russian. Her and Sondergard have performed this particular concerto before and there is a mutual understanding of the piece which really shone through. The tension in the hall was remarkable – there was (almost) total silence throughout the whole piece. Sondergard had total control over the orchestra and matched them perfectly to Nikkis play. With all different tempi going on this concerto can easily derail but it was just a mesmerising experience and a joy to watch. Nikkis little encore of Auld Lang Syne was such a polar opposite but she had the whole hall fixated on her – you could hear a pin drop!
After the interval the concert finished with Sibelius 2nd Symphony. It is so different from No 7 that was on the music stands the night before but yet so similar. Sibelius’ symphonies are just so beautiful and I could listen to them all day long! Sondergard got the longing and nordic intensity out of the Welsh. The clarity in their play was just astounding – there were various moments where I heard little notes and phrases that I hadn’t noticed before and they just added so much more colour to the already flaming picture. Woodwind and brass had quite a job in this particular piece and brought out the sparkles. Certainly a performance that left me shivering, elated and emotionally exhausted at the same time.
Another spectacular night at the hall… a mere 19 more to go for this years Prom season…