Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

The first of the works by the Icelandic composers came from the pen of Jóhann Jóhannsson (1969-2018), part of a score for a film, The Miners’ Hymns – dark, deep-below sounds, static, a couple of crescendos, and some electronic additions. Maybe as a complement to images it might have stood a chance; but as an aural experience it was a non-starter. As for the new piece by Hildur Guðnadóttir [BBC co-commission: world premiere], concerned with polarisation, this is luminous music that shimmers, and requires vocals (the BBC Singers). One or two moments caught the attention, but with scant development there was little to sustain interest.

Dalia Stasevska had the idea of attaching Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto to the Jóhannsson – a novelty, if neither here nor there – a performance that was at its best in lyrical moments (impressive horn solo towards the end of the first movement) and the Adagio. Elsewhere it was so-so, not helped by over-zealous projection of timpani and cymbal clashes; as for being a “powerhouse” pianist, Denis Kozhukhin (replacing Alexander Gavrylyuk) wasn’t as described (he also avoided rhetoric and agogics) and, anyway, he’s better than that, something his encore, ‘In Church’ from Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Album, Opus 39, demonstrated. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet completed the concert, a little short of atmosphere initially, the swordfight cymbal clashes and moonlit assignation went well, ditto families feuding with the star-crossed lovers caught up in the conflict. Stasevska went for the kill, and it was no surprise that the final timpani roll and separate note were respectively Hall-filling and gunshot. (And we had an announcer that didn’t tell us that Radio 3 is the “home of the Proms”. Result!)

Jóhann Jóhannsson: The Miners’ Hymns – They Being Dead Yet Speaketh
Hildur Guðnadóttir: The Fact of the Matter