Prom 16: Liszt, Anderson and Mussorgsky

Prom 16 is allowing listeners’ imaginations let loose, creating pictures of sound and taking us on journeys of the mind. Much of the music featured in this Prom is making its Proms premiere.

We open with Liszt who will be boasting another appearance later in the programme. This is Liszt’s interpretation of Hamlet. In this, he tries to hone in more on the psychological portrayals of the main characters, Ophelia, whose side is told through the clarinets and also Hamlet whose character is interpreted by a stirring upward theme in the string section. Although I am not very familiar with Hamlet, it is obvious that there is a tragic end, after all this is Shakespeare.

This music is delicate and firm in places carrying drama. There is great use of deathly silence, which can just be as important as sound itself. It’s the space in the music that allows us to breathe or even keep us on the edge of our seats in anticipation. This space and loneliness is different to the gestures of his grandiose piano music.

Liszt’s first appearance would be followed by a new world premiere by Julian Anderson. He would present to us a piano concerto that was very alternative in a lot of ways. Instrumentation was certainly unique and included a milk frother and an additional piano tuned a quarter tone flat.

Anderson plays with sound in a fun, interesting way. It’s being manipulated. In a way, it’s like sound is discovering itself and can be quite dreamlike in places. Although there are unusual sounds, it works. Clearly we are listening to deep seated, internal, intimate emotions. There were even maniacal streaks in this and obviously a minimalist influence. What was interesting for a piano concerto is the piano is more in partnership with the orchestra rather than just taking the starring role, which is refreshing.

As an interlude between this piece and the concluding Mussorgsky, is another appearance from Liszt. This time, a symphonic tone poem, which more or less tells of the story of life. It certainly has a different flavour to the opening piece but leads us nicely into Mussorgsky.

Pictures at an Exhibition anchors itself on one particular musical sentence which swaggers with a grandiose stride. I love the smoky saxophones and the Eastern European nuances that break through the seams of this work. This is a piece of music that carries strength and power but is also playful.

The theme is consistent and carries an interesting narrative, it’s hard to believe that this has been converted into an orchestral piece by Ravel from what were originally piano pieces. Unbelievable!