The second half of the concert was given over to a truly dire performance of Sibelius’s Second Symphony. Generally speaking, even boring performances can be interesting from the point of view of divining why they are so dull, but this one charted new realms of ennui. Tension was slack, phrasing unrefined, atmosphere negligible. Degrees of light and shade, together with other subtle details of harmony and emphasis that give the score life, went for nought. Key points of emotional frisson were missed. Moments of crucial structural significance were glossed over, the build-up of excitement towards the finale coming across as distinctly matter-of-fact. Lacking as it did any assertive or communicative ideas on interpretative strategy, the performance was scarcely better than a first run-through.Geoffrey Norris tells it like it is in his Telegraph review of David Robertson's Aug 26 Prom with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Quite rightly Norris praises the performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage's glittering but unmemorable 'Hammered Out' and Gil Shaham's exquisite interpretation of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto in the first half of the Prom. But the worst was certainly left to last. Please note the following are Geoffrey Norris' words, not mine - phrasing unrefined... distinctly matter-of-fact... scarcely better than a first run-through...
Of course musicians, like everyone else, have bad days in the office. But such a level of invective from an established critic is rare. Others may have a different view, but having watched the Prom on BBC 4 TV I can only agree with Geoffrey Norris' review. Could the "dire performance" have been avoided if David Robertson, who is a fine conductor of contemporary music, had been given a more suitable work to conduct? When will the inexorable sad decline of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under its absentee chief conductor Jirí Belohlávek be reversed? And have the omnipresent applause between movements and final ovation ever been less appropriate than at this Prom?
It is embarrassing to compare the once-great BBC Symphony Orchestra playing Sibelius with a youth orchestra playing a not dissimilar Rachmaninov symphony. But nevertheless I will, because the comparison is quite simple. Just reverse virtually every pejorative term used by Geoffrey Norris in the review above and you will know how the Suffolk Youth Orchestra played in their recent Snape Prom. Roll on the unblocking of classical music's arteries.
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