BBC Proms, Cadogan Hall and Royal Albert Hall, London – review

A standard concert at the BBC Proms is rarely just that. The novelty in Monday’s lunchtime recital was that violinist Janine Jansen was joined by Sakari Oramo, not in his usual role as conductor but as a violinist in his own right. Perhaps they could reprise their outing as a violin duo when they close the season together at the Last Night of the Proms?

The work at the centre of their programme was Prokofiev’s Sonata for two violins, Op.56. (How often does that get heard?) The music is conceived so that the two performers are invariably chasing each others’ tails, as if the parts are tied together in tandem. Jansen and Oramo matched each other in vitality, and the inventive piece proved well worth hearing. On either side, Jansen explored her far-reaching range of tone colours in the songs-without-words that make up Prokofiev’s Five Melodies for violin and piano, Op.35b, and Schubert’s rather exhaustingly wandering Fantasie in C, D934. Itamar Golan was her attentive accompanist.

The evening concert brought a nod towards Strauss’s 150th anniversary. His Burleske for piano and orchestra is not an out-and-out rarity – there have been 11 previous performances in Proms history, including one conducted by the composer in 1947 – but it is hardly top-drawer Strauss. Some banal basic ideas are worked till they are ready to drop and the most memorable theme keeps trying to turn into West Side Story, though sadly it never makes it. What the Burleske does have to offer is a virtuoso piano part, and Francesco Piemontesi sparkled with dashing insouciance, only to contrast that with playing of lyrical beauty in Mozart’s Rondo in A major, K386, after the interval.

There had been more Strauss earlier with his tone-poem Tod und Verklärung. On this showing, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales would not be in one’s first 100 choices as a Strauss orchestra (no glamour or romantic depth to the sound), though principal conductor Thomas Sondergård made sure there was some rhythmic backbone to the playing. Nielsen’s Symphony No.5 came off better, performed with some energy and drive, but the orchestral balance was still brass heavy. The unexpected eruption of a side-drum from the highest gallery made a brilliant moment of theatre.

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