Prom 50

Mozart intended his Clarinet Concerto in A for the basset clarinet, an instrument which was unusual even in his day...Michael Collins, the basset clarinettist, stole the show: there was a natural charm to his playing that was mirrored in his speech when he introduced his encore. Each phrase had direction and purpose. He didn’t simply play the notes on the page but progressed from the beginning of each movement to its end.

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Osmo Vänskä strode onto the stage to great applause, paused for the slightest of moments and then lunged at the orchestra with his baton. The gesture was sudden and lacked clarity, and as a result, the first note of the Prom wasn’t together in the strings. In Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Vänskä seemed to veer between extremes of dynamics, which sometimes worked well, such as in the first pianissimo, and at others appeared ungainly and unsubtle. Having said that, the sudden axe fall that kills Egmont (and, momentarily, the music) had all the abruptness called for, and the following victory finale was utterly thrilling. The counterpoint in this section was carefully controlled so that each strand could be appreciated without being lost in a quagmire of conflicting melodies. It roundly merited the round of applause which followed.

Mozart intended his Clarinet Concerto in A for the basset clarinet, an instrument which was unusual even in his day. As a result the publishers reworked the concerto for the more standard instrument, but yesterday evening the original, rarely-heard version was performed. Mozart’s poise and grace was quite a contrast to the insistent thrusting of Beethoven, and Vänskä demonstrated much more panache, particularly with the articulation markings. There was one moment of counterpoint with the clarinet in which the violins were a little overpowering, but that detracted little from the performance. Michael Collins, the basset clarinettist, stole the show: there was a natural charm to his playing that was mirrored in his speech when he introduced his encore. Each phrase had direction and purpose. He didn’t simply play the notes on the page but progressed from the beginning of each movement to its end. Vänskä put down the baton for the adagio and he and Collins between them made something brilliant out of what might otherwise have been fairly formulaic music. Collins is an accomplished conductor and Vänskä is a noted clarinettist so I wonder if this might be at the heart of their success as a partnership. The emotion they produced was not unguarded, but it was powerful: a stiff upper lip quivering. The adagio included some of the quietest playing from an orchestra I have ever heard. We found ourselves in a sleepy village, fictionalised by Agatha Christie as St Mary Mead with the final movement of the Concerto. It was a little brisker than normal and some of the downward flourishes in the violins lost some of their precision, but that could not take away from Collins’s playing. At every point his ornamentation was both creative and utterly flawless. A very entertaining, highly enjoyable performance. We were treated to the Finzi’s Five Bagatelles: Romance as an encore. The complexity of the mix of emotions Finzi portrays is always moving and in Collins’s hands it was sublime.

The opening of Delius’s Eventyr was somewhat reminiscent of the Egmont Overture, with its slow, bar-long chords. The prominent percussion was excellent, although when the meter of the music changed it lacked uniformity. However, it communicated the general impressions of Norway and its traditional literature that Delius intended in his tone poem effectively.

The Nielsen Symphony no. 5 starts with an insistent, quickly-alternating minor third figure with a two part counterpoint in the reeds. This preoccupation with the minor third comes back time and time again throughout the symphony. For part of the movement, the snare and the orchestra seemed to exist on different planes, not only conveying different ideas, but different existences. The offstage male voice choir was highly effective with their sudden and momentary outbursts. The variation in timbre by having the oboe solo turn his back to the audience to muffle his sound was highly effective. The first violins were light and nimble in the second movement and in the slower sections there was a sense of line to the counterpoint that gave direction to what could have been obscure strands. There was an ebb and flow to the music which brought it to life.

Again the finale was exhilarating: the climax epic with the timpanist giving force to the already full-bodied orchestra, but the stand-out performance of the night has to be Michael Collins with his suave and graceful performance of the Clarinet Concerto.

Programme
Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827), Egmont, Op.84: Overture
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791), Clarinet Concerto in A, K622
Delius, Frederick (1862-1934), Eventyr (once upon a time)
Nielsen, Carl (1865-1931), Symphony no. 5, Op.50
Artists
Michael Collins, Basset clarinet
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä, Conductor
Osmo Vänskä conducts
exhilarating musical
invention from Beethoven
and Nielsen, both
celebrating the human
ability to find hope in the
face of oppression and
suffering. Between them
Mozart’s lyrical classic is
played by a clarinettist of
the first order and there’s a neglected tone-poem,
Eventyr, evoking the colour and spirit of Norwegian
folk tales, from one of this year’s anniversary
composers. Delius’s amanuensis, Eric Fenby, saw the
piece as the very apex of the composer’s skill yet,
surprisingly, it has only appeared once previously at
the Proms.

Royal Albert Hall

Kensington Gore
London Greater London United Kingdom SW7 2AP