Tuesday 21 July 2020, BBC Radio 3 @ 7.30 p.m.
Recorded at the Royal Albert Hall on 4 September 1989
This was the Prom that introduced The Protecting Veil to the World. I may well be in a minority of one but I found it then (as broadcast) to be over-long (forty minutes-plus) for its minimal material, tedious and ultimately irritating – despite the best efforts of Steven Isserlis and the BBCSO strings – and I heard no reason to now change my mind or with any (further) wish to be offensive to the many who respond(ed) positively to Tavener’s music.
The much-missed Oliver Knussen (1952-2016) opened this generous-length Prom with his own Flourish with Fireworks, an ingenious incident-packed short with a Stravinsky template, following which Debussy’s Faune received a fluid and flowing outing.
Then came the twenty-five-minute Symphony, Opus 3, by Minna Keal (1909-99), here given its “first concert performance of [the] complete work”. It’s impressive in its intensity and turbulence, vivid in characterisations and scoring, volatile in moods, quite dark in places, edgy and explosive elsewhere, yet with a sense of direction to the unrelieved, dissonantly bitter, coda, which extinguishes to a fortissimo–diminuendo gong stroke.
The Tavener followed.
Mussorgsky’s Intermezzo in modo classico was the penultimate offering, an attractive piano piece benefitting from the composer’s own tart scoring, unmistakeably Russian (with hints of Boris Godunov); and, finally, Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale, given a vibrant and atmospheric account, the BBCSO on its mettle from the off given Knussen’s pulsating tempo, creating a bustling cartoon picture of the Emperor’s court, but it made the mysterious and exotic measures all the more telling, irrespective of whether the titular bird was real or mechanical, and not forgetting the fisherman.