Prom 56 – Staatskapelle Dresden/Luisi | Classical review

Royal Albert Hall, London

The arrival of the great Dresden orchestra under their principal conductor, Fabio Luisi, signals the start of the international merry-go-round of the final two weeks of the Proms season. No other visiting orchestra, though, will be able to match the Saxons' proud ability to programme two works specially written for them, almost a century apart, and with the substantial added attraction of the Lang Lang show thrown in for good measure.

The later piece was entitled traces, by Rebecca Saunders, a composer born in the UK but based in Berlin. On the basis of the revised version of the work, which received its world premiere in Dresden this week, she is not what you might call a very giving composer. Traces is extremely quiet and demands utmost stillness and concentration from the audience, which, in a hall of nearly 5,000, is a big ask. For much of its 15-minute duration, it hovers on the edge of silence, so that the exercise of listening to it is oddly compelling if not specially rewarding.

Emerging from nothing in the double basses and eventually dissolving into isolated percussion taps, traces rarely rises above a kind of murmuring. When it does explode, the effect seems almost shocking, and the return to the intensity of its slowly shifting timbre is a kind of relief. Apart from one unimpressed baby, the audience gave it their all, as did the orchestra.

The rest of the concert, though, was all giving – and how. Lang Lang was at his wilful, most crowd-pleasing best – or worst, depending on one's taste (not mine, I'm afraid) – in Chopin's F minor concerto, and threw in the first of the Opus 25 études as an encore, also much pulled about. In the second half, the Dresdeners, to whom the work is dedicated, played Strauss's Alpine Symphony with tremendous class and as to the manner born, which they are.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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