Prom 49: BBCSO/Oramo review – curiously ill at ease

Royal Albert Hall, London
Soprano Anu Komsi's impressive technique was at the fore in a fairytale-themed programme

Sakari Oramo's latest Prom with the BBC Symphony Orchestra was a family-oriented affair with a programme structured, with one exception, round musical evocations of fairytales. The exception was the UK premiere of Jukka Tiensuu's Voice Verser, "an ironic coloratura concerto", written in 2012 for Oramo's wife, the soprano Anu Komsi. Using a gibberish text, it's a big brash effort designed to show off every facet of her technique. There are swooning glissandi in the first movement, manic staccatos in the second, and vertiginous ascents into the stratospheres in the third. The scoring is gaudily efficient. It's good fun, though whether it would survive repeated hearings is questionable.

Komsi was also the soloist in the first complete Proms performance of Szymanowski's Songs of a Fairy Princess, originally written for soprano and piano in 1915. Szymanowski orchestrated three of the songs in 1933: Oramo himself arranged the rest in 2012. The piece isn't really aimed at children, though, since this fairy princess is very much a symbolist icon, yearning sensually for an absent, possibly unfaithful lover. Once again, Komsi's technique was impressive, but we could have done with a bit more variety of expression and a lot more of the words.

Elsewhere, we were on more familiar territory with Ravel's Mother Goose and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Oramo seemed curiously ill-at-ease with the Ravel, in which exaggerated tempo changes nearly wreaked havoc with Laideronette and her pagodas, and sentimentality threatened to intrude on the music's poise. He also took a while to warm to Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite, which didn't exert its grip until partway through the first movement. There were fine things later on, though – playing of great finesse and beauty in The Kalendar Prince, genuine passion between the prince and princess, and a real sense of sublimity at the work's close.

Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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