Geniuses of the place
Royal Albert Hall
Charles Ives: Three Places in New England
Pierre Boulez: Notations I, VII, IV, III & II
Tobias Picker: Cello Concerto (world premiere)
Leos Janacek: Sinfonietta
Paul Watkins (cello)
David Robertson (conductor)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
The BBC Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson seemed to be on less than top form in this Prom. They might have been demoralized by the sparsity of the audience. The Janacek Sinfonietta is of course a lollipop, though a particularly high-class one. And, with its programme of a stroll around Brno, it made a particularly effective pendant to Ives' equally delightful, and brass-rich, Three Places in New England. Both performances were workmanlike, enjoyable enough but lifted mainly by the playing of the brass. The Ives also suffered a little from the non-stop wheeze of the Albert Hall's soon-to-be overhauled organ. Boulez's Notations might have been what scared the horses, though these piano transcriptions are thoroughly enjoyable as well as technically complex. The manic Notation II is always a surefire winner.
The orchestra might also have been a little under-rehearsed in the more familiar works because of the effort required for the world premiere of Picker's Cello Concerto, commissioned by the BBC. On first hearing, this seems to be a fairly mainstream neo-romantic concerto, with some tricky effects in, particularly, the first two movements. The Albert Hall may not have been the ideal venue for a work that seems to aim at a lapidary intertwining of lines in a similar tessitura. At times, the solo cello seemed to be playing in counterpoint to the first violins, while the cello section played a louder accompaniment. And in the first movement there was an apparent painful clash between solo cello and violins that didn't seem motivated by the rhetoric of the music. During the second movement, the solo cellist seemed to be thrashing away as part of an engaging complex dance in the cello section, without producing any identifiable sound. The last two movements used the solo cello more conventionally as a heroic singing voice against the orchestra, and were more, well, conventional but at least conventionally enjoyable. Picker could have been writing with his inner ear on the recording inevitably to come, but his cello concerto probably needs more work, in spite of a committed performance from Paul Watkins as the soloist.