Shadowy start, brilliant climax
By Barry Millington
From ThisIsLondon.co.uk (Evening Standard) - 28 July 2006
In view of criticisms of Proms programming this year, it is a pleasure to be able to report that last night's concert by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra was an imaginatively conceived affair. It even featured two women soloists - though admittedly a soprano is something of a desideratum in Mahler's Fourth Symphony.
The opening of German composer Wolfgang Rihm's Verwandlung leaves the listener unsure of precisely what is part of the score and what is noise supplied by a settling audience. This is music of suggestion and shadow, as though observed through a glass darkly, until the ruffled surface impinges on the consciousness.
The account of Schumann's Piano Concerto that followed, with HÃ©lÃ¨ne Grimaud the soloist and British conductor Jonathan Nott, picked up the thread by highlighting the counterpoint between reverie and affirmation. The bravura gestures of the first movement were sharply articulated by Grimaud, but when the opportunity presented itself, she dissolved into poetic mode.
The finale too oscillated between elfin agility and the irresistible button-holing that characterises her playing.
Nott's Mahler daringly played up the contrasting colours and tempi of the first movement. If the woodwind's bells were not aggressively raised in the third movement, it was because everything was being held in reserve for the tremendous eruption at the climax.
By Andrew Clements
From the Guardian - Saturday July 29, 2006
Wolfgang Rihm is one of the leading European composers of today as well as one of the most prolific, yet it is eight years since one of his pieces was last played at the Proms.
At first sight the 20-minute Verwandlung - the title means transformation - is a 21st-century take on one of the great late-romantic slow movements of the kind you would find in a symphony by Mahler or Bruckner. Long, sinuous threads of a melody are spun out by the strings and coloured by wind instruments, until a menacing rhythm tapped out by the tambourine is taken up by the rest of the percussion, overwhelming everything else. The melody, though, is immovable: when the tumult has died down it continues on its way, still constantly transforming itself, and generating a succession of exquisite, spare textures, beautifully realised by the Bamberg players.
It sounds simple, and in some respects it is, for there is a sense of utterly organic growth about Verwandlung, as if Rihm had just allowed his musical material to find its own destiny, illustrating Mahler's claim that "one does not compose, one is composed". The Proms audience had an immediate chance to compare Rihm's view of late-romantic symphonism with the real thing, for conductor Jonathan Nott ended his programme with Mahler's Fourth Symphony, for which Inge Dam Jensen was the soprano in the child-like but never childish last movement.
In between, Hélène Grimaud was the soloist in Schumann's Piano Concerto, a performance that veered between passages of total enchantment - the dreamy dialogue between piano and clarinet in the first movement, the intimate conversational exchanges of the intermezzo - and sections that seemed almost anonymous.
From the Telegraph - 28/07/2006
These were two wonderful Proms, utterly contrasted in their music. The second of them was given by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, which played with the delicacy and lightness of a chamber orchestra.
This made it especially well-suited to Mahler's most understated symphony, the Fourth, and to Schumann's cosily intimate Piano Concerto - though in the latter the orchestra's tact was offset by the astonishing brilliance of pianist Hélène Grimaud.
The prevailing note of delicate introspection was struck in the opening piece, Verwandlung (Transformation), by the 55-year-old German composer Wolfgang Rihm. It began as a delicate Webern-like tracery, soon acquiring weight and depth. But then the percussion made a violent and implacable interruption. Witnessing the music's efforts to exorcise this shock was engrossing, and oddly moving.
By Annette Morreau
From the Independent - 31 July 2006
Hélèn Grimaud, in Schumann's piano concerto with the Bamberg Symphony under Jonathan Nott (Prom 18), went from exquisitely dreamy to tigerish, her solid left hand emphasising the harmonic bass. The fiendish piece held no horrors; she, like Josefowicz, knows that playing softly works surprisingly well.
In the same Prom, the Danish soprano Inger Dam-Jensen brought up the rear in Mahler's Symphony No 4, bringing bell-like purity to the nutty words of the last movement. Nott has a sleek machine in this orchestra, disciplined and sensitive to colour and phrasing. Alas, the UK premiere of Verwandlung ("transformation") by Wolfgang Rihm, a largely tonal work, was sabotaged by coughing.
By Hilary Finch
From TimesOnline.co.uk - July 31, 2006
Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony: this should have been a sell-out Prom. London’s peak of oppressive heat could have accounted for some empty seats. But it could also have been due to the appearance in the programme of Wolfgang Rihm.
Why anyone should find the music of this prolific 54-year-old German quite so daunting is difficult to fathom. Neither his symphonies nor his music theatre have really taken off here: the former, perhaps, simply too tricky to classify; the latter too Germanic.
The Proms hosted the UK premiere of a 15-minute orchestral work called Verwandlung. The title means “transformation”: the ensemble, and its cracked mirror of musical memories, is constantly changing. A single note pierces the silence.
Where does it come from? Breath and bow seem for a moment indistinguishable — and then the dark shadow of Romanticism seems to move through the strings. Spectres of Webern’s note-by-note colour changes, of Mahler’s melancholy, even Strauss’s opulence, scud by. But nothing is fixed: all is flux. Sudden crescendo points truncate the music’s progress, and it reels in aftershock.
Meticulously and tenderly performed by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jonathan Nott, this work was the perfect companion for Schumann and Mahler. Hélène Grimaud was the soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto. She reawakened us to what makes this over-familiar work remain unique: its heady reverie of dialogue and transformation with the orchestra; its airy, levitating brilliance; its free flow of ideas. Her strength was indomitable, her control of rhythmic energy rigorous.
The Bambergers’ playing was as much to be admired. And the orchestra’s highly individual soloists, mercurial reactions — and Nott’s determination to take nothing for granted — all came into their own in Mahler’s Fourth. Nott was a master of pacing, pushing every dynamic and tempo shift to its extreme and back again, for a performance of lithe muscle, tingling nerves and — with Inger Dam-Jensen as soprano soloist — authentically childlike wonder.