Bridge, Brahms, Holst and Elgar might seem to be a highly conventional collection of composers for an evening at the Proms, but two curios hiding undercover of this headline belied such expectations of conventionality.
Of those two curios - Holst's rarely-heard but gleaming meditation for cello and orchestra, Invocation, and Dejan Lazic's arrangement of Brahms' Violin Concerto as a semi-fictive 'Third' Piano Concerto - it was the Lazic/Brahms that was by far the most intriguing.
Placing his efforts in a long line of arrangements and re-arrangements, and justifying those efforts in the same terms, Lazic here attempts something rather bold by re-imagining such a hallowed piece of the repertoire, although his version is so reverential to the idea of 'Brahms' that, if anything, its potentially radical force is absorbed into the continuity of tradition.
That said, Lazic has managed here to create an absorbing transcription. Whilst the piece necessarily loses some of the key tension present in the original's thorny solo part, in addition to sticking as I have said too rigidly to an imagined Brahmsian mode of transcription, it is so vividly modelled, and was so vividly realised in performance, that any grumbles of Lazic playing it safe have little weight. The original piece itself (the orchestral part of which remains untouched) is so full of richness and invention indeed that Lazic's would have needed to be a particularly ham-fisted job if it was to rob the music of its vitality completely.
As it turns out this is a capable rendering. Apart from the occasional oddity (such as the bare dyads here and there in the first movement, or the grandiloquent, almost Tchaikovsky-like opening), in fact, not too much is out of step, with the accomplished idiomatic mixing of the three thematic areas in a slowly building crescendo in the fully original cadenza demonstrating in microcosm the nature of Lazic's achievement. The rich tones and passagework of Lazic's performance, meanwhile, impressed, and to these qualities Lazic added a delicacy of touch in the small Schumann encore - Freundliche Landschaft - which followed.
Lazic's was one of two encores in the concert. The other, from Julian Lloyd Webber, followed the cellistís glowing performance with a measured and responsive BBC Philharmonic under Vassily Sinaisky of Holstís under heard, prayer-like Invocation, was of an odder order entirely. The Serenata from Britten's first suite for cello is a bare, oud-like oration in itself, but when heard as it was here in a packed and cavernous Royal Albert Hall, it seemed as otherworldly as a junkie imam. Despite some very poor intonation and tone production in Webber's performance, his wild choice of encore here should only be welcomed.
The outer parts of the programme, despite strong execution in both cases, could not help but feel less immediate, less striking, than the two pieces already discussed. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to hear the formal and tonal subtlety of Bridge's 'Rebus' Overture in concert, whilst the 'Enigma' Variations, when given such a loving and gripping performance as they were here - where 'Nimrod' was effusive but not lavish, and balance was comfortably struck between humour and detail - cannot fail to be compelling. The entry of the organ in the final variation, incidentally, was just as it should be; thunderous and reverberant!
Photo: Dejan Lazic by Felix Broede
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