Photo, Andy Paradise

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Following a thirty-five-year association Tadaaki Otaka is now Conductor Laureate of BBCNOW, a meaningful rapport that enhanced Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which ended the concert in C-major light, to compete a lean-sounding, crisply enunciated account graced with sensible (moderate) tempos in the outer movements (repeats observed) if a little too broad in the second (short of the marked con moto) and laboured in the (once-through) Scherzo, a reading outside of fad or fashion, if interrupted by vacuous clapping, that served the score faithfully.

The Prom opened with five of Rachmaninov’s Études-tableaux (from Opuses 33 & 39 – perhaps his greatest piano music), chosen by the composer and orchestrated by Respighi, a master of that particular craft. Otaka and BBCNOW lavished much care and attention on these gems, as created and recreated – quietly entrancing (seagulls and sea), colourfully festive, darkly lugubrious, spikily macabre, and celebratory.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, born 1875, dead aged thirty-seven, his Violin Concerto swansong given a posthumous premiere in 1912, music that is rhapsodic and romantic, not always engaging (a relatively weak and too long Finale) if assured, especially the writing for the solo instrument, played magnetically by Elena Urioste with devotion, virtuosity, attractive timbre and a generous heart, the latter informing the confidences of the slow movement, so expressive, and very well accompanied by Otaka and BBCNOW. As an extra she and the five string principals offered ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz, arranged by Tom Poster, entrancingly.

A word for R3 presenter Penny Gore: she of course did trail things, if fewer than some colleagues, and the annoying “home” tag, if with a welcome dignity, although she was over-effusive regarding the Beethoven – if any work can speak for itself it’s his Fifth Symphony (as it did to me fifty-odd years ago from Fricsay’s Berlin Radio recording) – and while Otaka’s conducting of it wasn’t a milestone, it would have served well a first-time listener.