As I was doing the recycling the other day, my mind turned briefly to the different ways in which composers sometimes recycle, revise or reuse music. Taking the pieces in this programme by Alexander Shelley and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as examples. Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor was written in 1904 but was revised heavily in 1905, the third movement of Prokofiev's Symphony no. 1 in D major "Classical" was also used in his ballet Romeo and Juliet, and his Symphony no. 3 in C minor used music from an unperformed opera. However, the key theme in this concert was around two composers linked to events leading up to the 1917 Russian Revolution and beyond. Sibelius helped to create a national identity for Finland in the build up to its independence from Russia, and Prokofiev composed in Russia before the Revolution and, after a spell abroad, in the post-revolutionary Soviet Union, used as one of the figureheads for the new artistic way.

Chloë Hanslip © Benjamin Ealovega
Chloë Hanslip
© Benjamin Ealovega

Prokofiev's First Symphony was written exactly 100 years ago, in the year of the Revolution, as a neoclassical work broadly in the style of Haydn. Shelley adopted a slightly leisurely pace in the opening Allegro, which lost a touch of momentum as a result, but this did, at least, allow some fine detail to be heard. There was a comfortable lilt and quiet bounce to the Larghetto second movement, with a nice balance cultivated between winds and strings. The metronomic passages in the Gavotte were pleasingly effective, as was the frisky and skittish Finale, which the RPO performed playfully with Shelley creating fine discipline with the sharp contrasts in dynamics. The playing was generally crisp throughout, but slightly ragged in one or two places.

In Sibelius' Violin Concerto, Chloë Hanslip was movingly intense from the outset – passionate, attacking and creating an almost breathless timelessness at key moments, particularly in the first two movements. Her gritty and grinding approach to parts of the first movement verged on the rough, but the effect was more satisfying than playing it too safe, which is something we hear all too often. There was sensitive and intelligent support from Shelley with a good understanding and nice balance between soloist and orchestra. The RPO's warm and rich tones complemented Hanslip's wonderfully heartfelt pleading in the second movement, and despite one or two moments where they were not totally together, this did not detract from the overall beauty and shape. There was great attack in the third movement, with driving rhythms and a gutsy Hanslip soaring through the complex lines relentlessly and with great bravado and precision.

Prokofiev's Third Symphony uses music taken from his unperformed (at least during his lifetime) opera The Fiery Angel, a potent love story mixing themes of obsession, carnal desires and demonic possession. Shelley and the RPO really came to the fore in this piece, which got off to a frenzied start in the first movement with wild sweeping gestures, strings flowing and sharp, and wind and brass instruments suitably chippy and argumentative. Shelley created an appropriately spiky dialogue, particularly in the sardonic march-like passages, while also weaving in some wonderfully delicate moments. There was a nice ebb and flow to the second movement, with transparent textures floating through the air and Shelley creating an edgy feel. The acidic third movement was characterised by violent outbursts, demonic glissandi and shrill calls, mixed with a rhapsodic middle section and a general scurrying throughout, while the aggressive and incessant fourth movement, with its crushing chords and dramatic tuttis, sustained momentum and tension right to the end.

***11