tue 25/07/2017

Prom 16: Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic, Goetzel/Prom 17: Les Arts Florissants, Christie | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 16: Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic, Goetzel/Prom 17: Les Arts Florissants, Christie

Prom 16: Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic, Goetzel/Prom 17: Les Arts Florissants, Christie

Communication at the highest level in orchestral orientalia and Rameau motets

Sascha Goetzel and his Turkish orchestra at the PromsAll images by Chris Christodoulou

The sprightly tread of Handel’s Queen of Sheba, attended by two wonderful Turkish oboists, wove the most fragile of gold threads between full orchestral exotica and Rameau motets of infinite variety last night. Not that any more links need be found: it’s the addition of the late night events which turns the Proms into a real festival, not the mere concatenation of concerts you might find in the main orchestral season. And no-one could have asked for a higher level of engagement last night from either Austrian live wire Sascha Goetzel and his amazingly high level Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra (****), or the better-known quantity of William Christie and Les Arts Florissants (*****).

Pace the late Edward Said, orientalism no longer needs to be a dirty word, in music at least, now that orchestras like Istanbul’s mostly Turkish forces can reclaim a western, or at least a western-trained, appropriation of eastern promise. The Borusan team has already proved its mettle with discs of characteristic adventurousness, most recently a hybrid showcasing one of the very best performances of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade I’ve ever heard, complete with brief qanun (Turkish zither) and oud (lute) interludes which really work.

Sascha Goetzel at the PromsThe Rimsky masterpiece was the only camel (not) in the room last night. Unquestionably it’s the best of all composers’ responses to the east – the composer’s Antar Symphony runs it a close second – while a shorter whirl, Balakirev’s Islamey, his Caucasian fantasy originally for a pianist of Lisztian virtuosity, has a dance and a song of comparable memorability. A pity the fluent and disciplined Goetzel (pictured above) and company didn’t choose Alfred Casella’s orchestration over Lyapunov’s rather more obvious one: with Respighi’s suite from Belkis, Queen of Sheba at the other end of the concert, that would have given us more of the Italian connection. Still, Islamey flashed with focus from the first incisive ricochets of strings and Belkis – originally an 80 minute ballet for La Scala with a reported if unlikely thousand performers on stage, the 1930s apogee of Fascist kitsch – finally played her trump card of a roof-raising brass cavalcade.

Before that, admiration had to be limited to Respighi's shot-silk orchestration and the Borusan woodwinds’ perfect and free execution of the many drifting arabesques. Holst’s Beni Mora isn’t stacked with memorable ideas either, rather overplaying the oriental intervals of limited invention in its first two dances, but the Algerian motif of the concluding processional becomes a haunting ostinato to an Arabic equivalent of Debussy’s "Fêtes", with a similar interior quality.

The Handel and Mozart’s Overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail with its Turkish janissary-band percussion showed us how adaptable and sprightly the Istanbul orchestra can be. It won its right to play a rhythmically interesting but - again - thematically insubstantial encore by pioneering Turkish composer Ulvi Cemal Erkin, the "dance rhapsody" Köçekçe of 1942, introduced with spirit and a very clear, unamplified voice by born motivator Goetzel. Brave and enterprising of them, too, to include the world premiere of a BBC Commission, Gabriel Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, composed with that excellent violinist Daniel Hope in mind. The territory, we’re told, is the trenches of World War One, but the mud got in the way of any mobility.

Daniel Hope at the PromsAn exotic introduction gives way to a pawky march, the first time I’ve heard Gabriel pastiche grandfather’s style  - and I don’t mean the bassoon character of Peter and the Wolf. He subjects it to Schnittke-like sabotage; heavier march mania accumulates in the second movement, an avowedly atmospheric trenches drift and a final modulation into questioning ethereal eternity follow. Strangely, though, it’s only the moments which count – and there are some ravishing ones for Hope (pictured above), whose instrument is treated with proper singing, violinistic respect – while the overall trajectory is static and numbing in the wrong sense. Not one for the ages, I fear, but the latest Prokofiev has already won his spurs at the Proms with his Concerto for Turntables back in 2011, and better is surely to come.

Immortality seemed more certain with Rameau’s relatively early motets. He was 30 when he began them, 50 when he embarked on the stunningly original operas which truly made his name. No question, the Rameau quirkiness and lavishly original use of limited instrumental forces only fully bursts upon us in the third of the late night Prom’s official sequence, In convertando Dominus, and the reason is clear: Rameau overhauled it, to what extent we don’t know as the earlier score is lost, in 1751, well into his operatic mastery.

Les Arts Florissants at the PromsNo-one wrote better for the bassoon, and here there were two, in scintillating conversation with oboes and voices. Astonishing, too, the upward-rushing flutes for the illustration of captivity being turned “as the rivers in the south” and the chromatic richness of “they that go out weeping”, electrifyingly offset by the exuberance of “shall come back in exultation”.

Not that invention is lacking in the less ornate predecessors we heard. Rachel Redmond, a more than promising young soprano of blithe presence and warm upper register which made the most of the Albert Hall surround-sound, launched Quam dilecta tabernacula in intimate dialogue with the two flutes. Their presence was made clear by further illustration: these are the sparrow and the turtledove who finds a nest for its young in the Lord’s dwelling place. More distinctive singing from the other members of Les Arts Florissant’s solo team was crowned by high tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen (pictured above). He ornamented as stylishly as the collective instrumental and vocal forces, voice types dispersed around the line-up for greater fluidity.

William Christie at the PromsChristie’s alertness and spring never faltered (pictured left, he seems fully restored to health after a recent severe illness). That we expected, but not a whole new concert strand he initiated with four glorious encores. Lucky us in the hall: Radio 3 listeners only got the first, a whole new sound world with Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville’s astoundingly original motet “In exitu Israel”, or at least three movements from it. Penetrating unisons from an even fuller-throttle choir, stammering repeated notes: what a revelation, to me, at any rate.

Then we had proper Rameau anniversary solemnity: the transcendentally grave Act 1 chorus from Castor et Pollux reworked as a Kyrie for his funeral in 1764, lightened by the Elysian fields of “O tendre amour”, again religiously recast, as “O fons vivus caritas". And how could a Rameau homage not end with a virtuoso storm scene? Only this wasn’t one of the famous examples from his operas but another coup de foudre from de Mondonville, the tempest movement from his second grand motet Dominus regnavit, outstripping the relatively tame nature-shudders in the first Rameau offering of the evening. Such generosity, such perfection of execution: thank you, Mr Christie.

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