United Kingdom Prom 25 – Dvořák and Bartók: Alban Gerhardt (cello), Idikó Komlósi (mezzo-soprano), John Relyea (bass), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Dutoit (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London, 3.8.2016. (AS)
Dvořák: Cello Concerto in B minor, B191
Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Sz48
Charles Dutoit’s conducting of the Dvořák Cello Concerto’s long opening orchestral introduction rather set the scene for the tone of the performance as a whole, for after a vigorous projection of the opening statement he slowed down rather more markedly than usual for the presentation of the second subject. This was clearly a sympathetic response to the intentions of his soloist, for when Alban Gerhardt entered the scene he showed at once not only his firm, big tone quality, which seemed to fill the spaces of the Albert Hall with ease, but a view of the music that was lyrical and expressive in its flexibility of pulse. It was an approach that well suited the intensely romantic nature of Dvořák’s writing for the instrument. There was no flabbiness, however, no loss of strength or forward momentum, and Gerhardt’s playing, for the moment at least, was persuasive in suggesting that this was the ‘right’ way of projecting the musical argument. After the movement’s rousing end an outbreak of applause seemed inevitable, but to the relief of at least one listener this Prom audience contained knowledgeable listeners and knew that they should not break the music’s spell.
The concerto’s second movement offers still more opportunities for romantic expression, of course, and sure enough Gerhardt responded with some beautiful and heart-warming turns of phrase. Perhaps he lingered slightly too much at certain points, but this was a very acceptable trait within a most sensitively wrought account of the composer’s open-hearted musical sentiments.
Dutoit set a slightly hurried tempo at the outset of the finale, it seemed, and both he and Gerhardt didn’t quite bring out the emphatic, march-like rhythms of the music to best advantage, but when the more reflective passages arrived, the soloist was in his most expansive mode. Here the music’s potency seemed a little diluted for a moment or two, and there was a certain loss of spirituality in the music making, but a rousing account of the work’s triumphal ending brought the performance to a satisfying end.
In January 2015 the RPO and Dutoit gave a memorable account of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle at the Royal Festival Hall. The advertised soloists had both fallen by the wayside and were replaced by two veteran singers, Idikó Komlósi and Willard White. Both artists rose to the occasion with magnetically dramatic accounts of their roles, and so it was quite logical that Komlósi, who the current programme told us had sung the part over 150 times, should be engaged for this performance. But alas, what was previously an acceptable and even an appropriately heavy vibrato in 2015 had now become looser to the extent that pitching was affected, and the voice itself, though still powerful, had on this occasion lost its tonal warmth. Nor did John Relyea’s contribution erase memories of Willard White sonorous tones and sense of drama, for it lacked the same quality of characterisation, and his delivery was rather dry and effortful. As in 2015 Dutoit obtained a superb quality of playing from the RPO, which always seems to respond wonderfully whenever he is in charge, but though he worked hard to generate tension and atmosphere the deficiencies of the soloists caused the performance as a whole to fall slightly flat.