Rembrandt’s Belshazzar’s Feast

This is a tale of woe, of lost and reclaimed, and the alchemy of turning a concert review into a ramble (as tagged). Here I was last night just about to post my review of RPO75, as heard live on Radio 3. Having added the heading, the review itself disappeared, gone, no trace, a blank page. Without the aid of Match of the Day slow-mo action replays I shall never know what I did to make the words leave the scene. No doubt, the mistake was mine.

So, I stuck a pizza in the oven and let the brain come up with a solution and was spurred on by my “stubborn bugger” reputation (as christened by a sweet-cheeky-endearing nurse at the hospital I was recently in), and then it dawned on me to salvage my words in a different form, what you are now reading.

I had mentioned that the RPO gave its first concert on September 15, 1946, in Croydon’s Davis Theatre, founder-conductor Sir Thomas Beecham including music by Bizet, Mozart, Rossini and Tchaikovsky … and also Delius’s Over the Hills and Far Away, which opened RPO75, an undistinguished piece that rarely suggests its author, although Vasily Petrenko (recently installed as the RPO’s music director) drew refined playing from his new band; excellent woodwind and horn solos, sensitive strings.

Then Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Sheku Kanneh-Mason, a combination already done to death (and he’s only twenty-two), the piece itself long ago losing its appeal thanks to box-office and broadcast abuse. I tend to find Kanneh-Mason an uncommunicative musician and did so on this occasion; add in some forced intensity as well as intonational and tone-compromising problems in the cello’s upper register.

I have several recordings of the Elgar; the two I treasure most are Starker/Slatkin and Isserlis/Paavo Järvi (both Philharmonia Orchestra). And I would love to hear Anastasia Kobekina play it. At Monday’s Wigmore Hall lunchtime recital – live on Radio 3: – she conjured a range of colour, dynamics, subtlety and fantasy that was beguiling. If Kobekina includes it in her repertoire, or plans to, her powers of painting pictures and storytelling could well make Elgar’s Concerto shine for me once again.

No lustre has been lost over the years with William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. Petrenko (on a British music crusade this RPO season) had its full quotient of excitement although not all details made it through in what could be unkempt ensemble and syncopation was sometimes glossed over in a way Previn would never have countenanced. Sir Bryn Terfel, a little wobbly and monochrome at times, was a vivid narrator and did well with the shopping-list and writing-on-the-wall episodes. The members of the Philharmonia Chorus (not at full strength?) were a lusty crew. As great masterpieces lend themselves to doing, the thrill was total … a joyful noise made.

Vasily Petrenko launches 2021-22 season with first concerts in charge of RPO, Svetlanov Symphony.

25th George Enescu Festival – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Vasily Petrenko conducts Enescu’s Second Suite & Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, and Julia Fischer plays Mendelssohn’s E-minor Violin Concerto [live webcast]