Prom 30 saw the return of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under its Conductor Laureate Gianandrea Noseda with a Russian-themed programme. Prokofiev, Borodin and Tchaikovsky were played alongside Edward Cowie’s BBC commission and world première Earth Music I – The Great Barrier Reef.

Gianandrea Noseda © BBC/Rammella and Giannese
Gianandrea Noseda
© BBC/Rammella and Giannese

The Borodin overture and Polovtsian dances from Prince Igor served as an energy-injection to the start of the evening. Noseda treated the audience to his own directional dances too: for each melody he had a different dynamic to his body. His posture, face and movement would alter completely. There were balletic moves for the slower, softer melodies on the violin, foot-stomping in the marches, creeping in the quieter parts and even a good six inches of air under his shoes for the final chords. Entertaining to watch, Noseda’s own dancing gave the BBC Philharmonic a strong kick and filled the dances with life. His enthusiasm led him to sing “ta ta ta taa” toward the back of the stage as the punchier rhythms of the dances broke through. The quieter themes remained dreamy and Noseda held back. There was a wonderful moment where a simple melody was passed from the clarinet, to the flutes and all around the orchestra until the whole sound became rhythmic and percussive.

French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet stormed through Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 2 with style. It is known for being an immensely challenging work with many different facets. There is always an underlying romanticism to the melody underneath the dissonances. This was demonstrated in the Andatino, where Bavouzet played arpeggios up and down the piano with an inbuilt theme giving a sense of a caged romantic melody trying to break free. The fast Scherzo was attacked with vigour by Bavouzet and although there were a few wrong notes, they were believable as part of the movement. The double-act of Bavouzet and Noseda had a great chemistry on stage, both very dynamic in their display. As Bavouzet finished a challenging solo, Noseda stuck his tongue out at the orchestra just before they came in with a mighty chord. If only Bavouzet’s left foot hadn’t kept stomping through the movements. It started as a tap and got heavier right up until the final moments, in which he lifted himself off the piano seat and momentarily played standing up. The applause following the Prokofiev was long – he came out on stage several times, and when Noseda sat down in the viola section as Bavouzet took yet another bow, I think even he was hoping for a solo encore.

The world première of Edward Cowie’s Earth Music I – The Great Barrier Reef didn’t fit in with the Russian theme of the evening. Its pointillist textures used every technique in the book. It was as though it was a demonstration of to everything you could do with an orchestra within nine minutes. Cowie describes the piece in the programme notes as having “great energy and timbral richness” but it had a fundamental issue. Interjected between the great Russians and their big melodies, it lacked a memorable tune. The intermittent percussion part did, however, represent the imagery and sounds of waves crashing unpredictably against the Great Barrier Reef.

Though their efforts should be honoured through the experimental nature of Cowie’s work, the BBC Philharmonic had their chance to shine in the final performance of the evening, with the biggest work saved until last. Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 2 in C minor provided the final oomph with its final movement, that grows and grows until it can’t get any bigger – but does. Percussionist Paul Patrick got a deservedly large applause for his efforts on timpani. He was playing impressively fast by the end, switching drum rolls between drums swivelling 90 degrees for each beat of the baton. As if Noseda hadn’t already gained enough height in the Borodin and Prokofiev, he went for a one-foot jump for the final few bars. It was executed with excellence – as was the music.