United Kingdom Prom 4: Respighi, Ravel: Adams: Imogen Cooper (piano), Orchestras of the Royal Academy of Music and The Juilliard School, John Adams (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London 16.7.2012 (CC)
Respighi: Feste Romane (1928)
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
Adams: City Noir
The marriage of the RAM and The Juilliard is an inspiring one, resulting in a youthful super-orchestra for our global village times (forces onstage were large indeed). The programming was interesting, matching the virtuoso orchestration of Respighi with Adams’ expertly scored City Noir at each end of the evening. In between came a favourite Proms soloist, Imogen Cooper, in Ravel’s delicious G-Major Concerto.
Respighi’s large canvasses in his Roman Festivals, his glowing orchestration (and his use of the organ) seemed tailor-made not only to showcase the orchestra, but also the Albert Hall’s organ. Colours were painted effectively, including the darker sonorities of “Jubilee”. There were some magnificent individual contributions (notably a long horn solo from Francisco Gomez Ruiz). There was no hiding the fact that sometimes this sounded for all the world like film music, but the inclusion of the Gregorian elements added a certain fascination. The pealing brass was perhaps the most immediately impressive part of the reading. Adams’ clear lead ensured a sure sense of direction.
The Ravel brought with it a massive diminution in orchestral numbers. The script was obviously to give this as enlarged chamber music, quite a challenge given the sheer size (and acoustic) of the RAH. It was Cooper who facilitated this from the very beginning, accompanying the scurrying wind with perfectly judged fingerwork. There was also something incredibly beautiful about her sound. She remains one of this isle’s best pianists, her forays into Schubert always leading to memorable events, as her many London concerts have attested. In Ravel she is more of an unknown quantity, and everything she did was make one want to hear more. Her trills in the first movement were spellbinding; only the long and interpretatively difficult solo at the outset of the second movement was perhaps a trifle studied, something for which she compensated with some glorious filigree later on. The extremely fast finale (a proper presto) had plenty of character.
The Film Noir of the 1940s and 1950’s was one of two inspirational factors for City Noir; the other was the dream books of Kevin Starr (a history of California). The work spreads over around 35 minutes (a tad over). Sprinkles of jazz meet long angular violin melodies (superbly done here); the result was a fair generation of excitement. The central movement, “The Song is for You”, contrasts with the overburdened textures of the work’s first panel in its striving to find itself, to locate a mode of expression, all the time with an undercurrent of foreboding. Unfortunately this central panel loses steam after a while (something I have often found with Adams’ music – an inability to work interestingly with his materials). The occasional (and uncharacteristic) ragged ensemble suggested that perhaps the orchestra agreed with me? Be that as it may, the finale at least found the orchestra back on top form. Moments of unabashed Romanticism, plus what seems to be a reference to the saxophone-tinged music of Berg’s Lulu, led to a cacophonous climax and even passages of pure minimalism.
The Ravel was the clear highlight of the evening. The niggling question of whether it was worth coming, given the rather garish nature of the music on either side, remains unquenchable.