Photo, Yusef Bastawy

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

This short-measure concert, conspicuously lacking some sort of overture (how about Glinka’s to Ruslan and Ludmila?), started coldly with the most-performed of Prokofiev’s five Piano Concertos. The opening clarinet solo was a little lumpy, although it was soon encouraging that Isata Kanneh-Mason wasn’t driving through the first movement, favouring shape and articulacy, as well as discriminating dynamics and momentary reflections, a thoughtfulness and delicacy carried into the variations of the next movement, spikier when required, and with verve in the Finale, although the central section, led by Ryan Bancroft, dragged a little to an indulged climax (decent-enough accompaniment otherwise), Kanneh-Mason continuing to spellbind and then vitalising the concluding measures while retaining integrity. No encore from her, sadly.

There being no interval, once the piano had been removed, Bancroft went straight into Tchaikovsky Five, my Symphony of the moment:; The beginning was strikingly melancholic, ppp clarinets, then best-foot-forward for the Allegro, a persuasive bracing tempo, the exposition taken in one hit without squeezing subsequent subjects. There was real purpose here, the movement developing and releasing symphonically and emotionally, sinking into bassoon territory, a few seconds of suspenseful silence, and the Andante cantabile stole in, featuring a wonderful horn solo from Tim Thorpe, Bancroft’s broad approach flexible as to exposing passions and the presence of Fate, the latter momentarily forgotten with a light and airy ‘Valse’, played with gossamer agility at its scurrying midpoint. Bancroft let several seconds hang fire before launching the Finale, even so with consequence, then a sprinting Allegro – shaking off shadows – and a victorious apotheosis.

NYO-USA/Sir Antonio Pappano; Konzerthaus Berlin in 2019.