Sisi Burn, photo

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Elim Chan has certainly connected to Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), the score cherished by her but not indulged (or glossed over for that matter), delivered freshly, the composer’s musical portraiture of various friends allowed to be from his pen and appreciated as such by Chan, aided by the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s various experiences of this work (her debut with this ensemble). Tempos were consistently well-judged, including a broad/heartfelt ‘Nimrod’ begun on the almost-inaudible side of hushed, nobly climaxed and sensitively faded (to silence, thankfully). Dorabella’s stutter, Dan the dog, and – lovely cello solo – a sea-voyage, were well-catered for, and with the final Variation, a self-portrait, Elgar on the verge of international fame, Chan let him proudly strut his stuff and, in what can be an overwhelming emotional apotheosis, if not quite on this occasion, at least Chan eased back a little, included the ad lib organ part, and held the ultimate chord long enough for it to be significant.

This without-interval Prom had opened with Noriko Koide’s Swaddling Silk and Gossamer Rain (BBC commission: European premiere) – silkworms, no barriers, water, wind – refined sounds, delicate and spare, the occasional suggestions of faraway vistas, Takemitsu in the sonic mix: short enough if not adding up to very much, following which Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, with Jan Lisiecki, was unexceptionable in terms of tempo or phrasing – and loud timpani strokes (which had become even more irksome by the end of the Concerto) do not a minor-key work make. Only in the first-movement cadenza did Lisiecki enquire of the music, for the slow movement was too smooth and the Finale over-blustery; however, his Chopin encore, the E-flat Nocturne Opus 9/2, was magical.