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BBC 2022 Prom 42 (Susan Elkin reviews)

BBC Proms 2022 Prom 42 BBC Scottish SO, Thomas Dausgaard, Jan Lisiecki

Lisiecki.jpgEven for a seasoned critic it’s quite exciting to arrive at a concert venue and see three sets of timps in place: one high on the tiers, another set of shallow “Beethoven” ones behind the double basses and, intriguingly, a third set tucked into the front corner of the arena.

The concert began with one of Sibelius’s quirkier works. It may be known as the seventh symphony but it is effectively a tone poem in disguise. Rising scales in C major are not the most inspiring way to start and end a symphony but Thomas Dausgaard brought out tender wistfulness, a grand largo string sound and some evocative brass motifs across the four fused movements. And we saw and heard the first set of timps on the tiers.

Jan Lisiecki was a last minute substitute for Francesco Piemontesi who had to pull out because of illness. And what a wonderful account he gave of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. Still only 27, this young Canadian is a very arresting performer who clearly feels every note of the piece – witness his body language during the orchestral passages. The famous opening statement came with gentle, but very compelling, precision and his andante – the tasty filling in this delicious musical sandwich of contrasts – was played as beautifully as I’ve ever heard it.

It’s also a treat to hear the Beethoven cadenzas played with calm confidence and panache. So often this concerto is marred by eager ego-trippers keenly poking in inappropriate late romanticism or modernism. And of course the performance was enhanced by the use of those dry timps played with hard sticks in the heart of the orchestra.

Lisiecki’s Chopin encore was equally breathtaking. No wonder the Proms audience (hall fuller than recently) was lengthily enraptured.

Carl Nielsen’s fourth symphony, The Inextinguishable, like the Sibelius which it pre-dates by a decade, is played without breaks between movements. It is, however, a much more substantial work. I liked the flute/horn dialogue and the way Dausgaard allowed it the space it needs. Violas were, unusually on the outside of the orchestra where cellos normally sit and that made good sense when we heard the prominence Dausgaard gave to their “angry” fortissimo, down bow passages.

It’s an affirmative piece, played here with plenty of warmth and passion, which makes a strong case for the redemptive power of music. And never more so than in the last few minutes when we got some effective musical theatre.

A second timpanist had been standing at the back of the arena disguised as a Prommer in teeshirt and carrying a rucksack. Seconds before his entry he walked through the crowd and at last we knew what the extra timps were for. The dramatic duet he played, spotlit, with his colleague in the orchestra was magnificent. And the distance between the two players, with Dausgaard pivoting at the halfway point simply added to the drama.

First published  by Lark Reviews

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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