Royal Albert Hall LONDON HH/HHH

The Independent - United Kingdom; Aug 02, 2005

Edward Seckerson

If Madame Mao had played the violin, John Corigliano's Violin
Concerto 'The Red Violin' would have been to her taste. The former
Shanghai film actress liked steamy melodrama. Still, she could be
found in more familiar surroundings at the start of Prom 18. John
Adams' 'foxtrot for orchestra', The Chairman Dances, chugged its way
into the hall, dragging with it memories of his operatic masterpiece
Nixon in China.

Alas, 'dragging' might best describe the effect of Marin Alsop's
effortful reading of this glitzy curtain-raiser. This is a sleeker,
far more audacious piece than he had us believe. This is Madame Mao
on Madison Avenue, all shantung silk and vampish impudence. It's her
cultural revolution.

But Alsop was way too circumspect. The band sounded ungainly, the
shimmying string departures carried little insouciance, the rhythms
didn't tantalise. Even those itchy final moments in the percussion
failed to raise a smile.

But, as the warm-up for Corigliano's overheated concerto, it was a
nice idea. Corigliano deserved his Oscar for Franois Girard's The Red
Violin. He wields a mean orchestra, and delights in colouristic drama
" emotive contrasts, freakish exclamations, grandiloquent climaxes.
The storyboard is there in the music.

Joshua Bell carried the work's spirit through the time and space of
three centuries, indulging its flights of fancy, weathering its
pyrotechnical storms. He was amazing. Corigliano acted out every
measure from his seat in the stalls. But, for all that, the result
struck me more forcefully than ever as all surface and no soul.

Unfortunate, perhaps, that the great Shostakovich First Violin
Concerto " given the next night by the BBC Philharmonic under Vassily
Sinaisky " is everything the Corigliano aspired to be, and more. The
soloist " the hugely promising 20-year-old Armenian, Sergey
Khachatryan " impressed with his modesty and emotional restraint. His
soulful fragility was as beautiful as it was moving. The sound is as
yet small, and he may in time take the work's wilder extremes closer
to the wire. The great transitional cadenza from slow movement to
finale, from resignation to defiance, must at least convey a sense of
the individual overwhelmed by inexorable force. Khachatryan really
can play this concerto. One day it will play him.

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