Prom 35 – A revival of Glière’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Liszt, Glière, Rachmaninov : Ailish Tynan (soprano); Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits. Royal Albert Hall, London. 10. 8. 2011 (CC)

Liszt: Mazeppa
Glière: Concerto for Coloratura Soprano in F minor, Op. 82
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

Reinhold Glière (1875-1956) is a most under-valued composer. Most know him, if at all, through his massive Third Symphony, subtitled Ilya Muromets (1909-11), which attracted the likes of Stokowski and Scherchen and came to many LP collectors’ attention with Harold Faberman’s RPO recording on Unicorn Kanchana. The piece on offer in the current Prom, the Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra (1943), written for Debora Yakovlevna Pantofel-Nechetskaya (1904-98) is a haunting two-movement piece (an Andante followed by an Allegro). Ailish Tynan was the stylish vocalist, who rounded things off with a stunning F in alt. It is the singer who chooses which vowel to sing on (Tynan chose ‘A’). The scoring of the first movement is marvelously warm (as was the tone of Tynan’s voice). The music hardly belies its date, yet it has a charm that is undeniable, perhaps derived from the natural feel of Glière’s long phrases, perhaps from the thread of melancholy that occasionally bursts into radiance. The identifiably Russian-type Scherzo of the finale includes nightingale-like vocal florishes. Tynan’s excellent vocal staccato and her superb duet with the flute (occasional problems of ensemble aside) were clear highlights. Superb on all counts. As an interesting by-the-way, the same orchestra (under Vassily Sinaisky) performed Ilya Muromets at the 2007 Proms (19.7. 2007).

The young Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits (Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth SO from the 2010-11 season) clearly inspires his players. In the Liszt Mazeppa the orchestra reminded me of the BBC Philharmonic in the cleanliness of the execution and in the somewhat bass-light sound they make. This lack of heft didn’t stop them infusing the opening pages of Mazeppa with a tangible sense of menace, though, and the brass department was certainly more full-toned. The performance miraculously avoided bombast (difficult in this work). Just a little more involvement and abandonment would have raised this to a special performance (it depicts, among other things, Mazeppa’s ride tied naked to a runaway horse).

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, heard post-interval, is a work that can easily drown in its own emotive force. This was a very intelligent reading, marred by lack of sheer numbers in the violins, which took away some of the work’s power, and because these same violins sounded so shallow in the higher registers. A pity, as one noticed time and time again just how remarkably varied Rachmaninov’s scoring is, bringing life to passages that in other hands can easily sound tedious.

A pity, too, that the horns seemed to lack force in the Scherzo, and that the orchestral crash that precedes that movement’s fugato was lacking in surprise force (it was not entirely together, either). Karabits took the well-known third movement at a pace closer to Andante than the prescribed Adagio, but one could still enjoy the contributions of Kevin Banks (clarinet) and Edward Kay (oboe). The climactic flowering was involving if not overwhelming; similarly the festive finale had plenty of vim (and more of that by-now trademark textural clarity).

A most stimulating, if not wholly fulfilling, evening.

Colin Clarke