Mid-concert my BBC Proms buddy Abigail (from university days 30 years ago) lets slip that she’ll always make a point of listening to a work she’s unfamiliar with before coming to a concert in which the work is performed. She unwittingly triggers me to reveal one of my listening ‘red lines’
“If I don’t know the work I won’t listen to it first.” I am emphatic.
Abigail looks a little shocked.
“I don’t want to preempt things,” I explain. “I don’t want to spoil things. I want to listen to it fresh. New. Like it was a premiere. I’m a purist. I’m a massive pain in the arse.”
On a first listen Nielsen’s third symphony is bold. Fearless. I’ve got this vague sense the material jumps around a bit. It feels like there are loads of ideas welded together. The resulting sound makes a kind of sense but it’s not immediately obvious what he’s trying to say. I’m not quite sure where we’ve started or where we’ve arrived. (Rachmaninov or Shostakovich in comparison has a far more easily discernible narrative thread for example).
But, when Nielsen writes for strings suddenly his core proposition suddenly becomes more pronounced. His string writing is gut-wrenching stuff. Not so much tugging at the heartstrings as pulling down hard to see their tensile strength.
Another key highlight. Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 ‘fine’. Joyous material in the first movement. The second movement somehow stopped me in my tracks and hung me out to dry so to speak. The melody at the beginning has a deeply personal quality to it – maybe that’s something to do with Behzod Abduraimov playing. Me and pal Abigail comment on how whether maybe Beethoven’s love of variation makes his writing listenable but ultimately unsatisfying. #ControversialView
Without a doubt, the most remarkable element was Ravel’s ‘La Valse’. So much colour. So much texture. So many shifts in speed. As a concert opener, the BBC Scottish delivered in spades. Luscious string textures throughout – the musical equivalent of deep scoops from a bucket of luscious ice cream.
📸 Mark Allan