Review: PROM 44 – STRAVINSKY'S THE FIREBIRD, Royal Albert Hall

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Proms debut artist Gemma New, performing a selection from Shostakovich, Moussa and Stravinsky

By: Aug. 19, 2023
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Review: PROM 44 – STRAVINSKY'S THE FIREBIRD, Royal Albert Hall

Review: PROM 44 – STRAVINSKY'S THE FIREBIRD, Royal Albert Hall The power and majesty of the orchestra was at the heart of this Prom, with a well put-together programme that included the European première of a BBC co-commission and two early twentieth century compositions from two of Russia’s most famous musical sons. It also felt quite story-driven across the board, though significantly so in the headline piece.

Samy Moussa’s Symphony No. 2 was inspired by six principles: Austerity, Clarity, the Philosophy of Being, the Sphere, Classicism, and Mythological and Ancient Origins. This certainly goes some way towards explaining the sensation that he has created a world within this piece; its melodies are hypnotic, and suggest the infinite - this is also helped by the three movements being played straight through without any pauses. Though it does show off the orchestra to great effect, it is never too grandiose or pompous, instead it keeps in touch with Moussa’s original intentions.

Moussa himself was in the audience to hear this exceptional performance of his work, and received a warm round of applause in turn. It is a special piece of music, and one that fit perfectly alongside the rest of the night’s music.

Review: PROM 44 – STRAVINSKY'S THE FIREBIRD, Royal Albert Hall
Pavel Kolesnikov
Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

Soloist Pavel Kolesnikov joined the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major - this was a treat for both the eyes and the ears, as Kolesnikov dazzled the audience with his sartorial choices as well as his singular talent at the keys. He played with such passion and flair that I think everyone in the audience would have been heartbroken had he not returned to the stage for an encore.

His rendition of Bach’s Prelude in E minor was incredibly skilful and utterly transfixing. It was the perfect tonic after the first two pieces of the night, and sent us into the interval floating on air.

The Firebird was Stravinsky’s first foray into the world of ballet; to those in the know, it may feel a little familiar as he was very much influenced by the likes of Rimsky-Korsakov early in his career - however for the regular listener, you’re simply struck by its fairytale qualities and clear narrative arc. The piece has potent imagery, such as the appearances of the villainous Kashchey the Immortal (who turns people into stone) and the happy outcome following his vanquishing. Not only does it conjure up this imagery, but it also has the feel of a piece of music composed specifically for dancers.

It was a thrill to see the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra right at the top of its game, and also blessed with plenty of real characters - anyone who jokily gives the triangle a victorious wave as they stand to take a bow is worth watching, in my book! Conductor Gemma New was very expressive, and it almost felt as though the music was being channelled through her, so in sync was she with each piece. Even turning the pages on her score became part of the performance.

Unfortunately this was not one of the Proms chosen to be filmed for broadcast, but thankfully all events go out live on BBC Radio 3 - I highly recommend you catch up with the recording of this extraordinary display of musicianship.

The BBC Proms are at the Royal Albert Hall until 9 September

Photo credit: Roy Cox


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