PROM 8: INVITATION TO THE DANCE | BBC Proms 2019

The enigmatic title of this Prom surely comes from one of this season’s “Henry Wood Novelties”: Bartók’s Dance Suite, which got its UK premiere at the Proms in 1925, after which it dropped out of sight for half a century. The BBC Symphony Orchestra gave such an accomplished performance of this light and comic suite that it almost seemed effortless.

Top of the bill went to another of the “Henry Wood Novelties”: Stravinsky’s The Firebird, from which Henry Wood presented a “highlights package” (as the programme hilariously puts it) in 1913. Originating in dance as a commission for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the BBC Symphony Orchestra conjured up a menagerie: playing up the drama, we could almost feel the air whip around the wings of the Firebird above the orchestra.

The first half ended with a slightly lukewarm reception to the U.K. premiere of conductor Peter Eötvös’ third violin concerto Alhambra. Guest soloist Isabelle Faust was able to grasp the unbelievable technical demands of the piece: switching from brutal attack to nervous vibrato in a single sweep of the bow; skittering and plucking with perfect precision. An emphasis on xylophone lent an unnecessarily comic edge to this somewhat structureless new work.

There was no obvious dance in this, nor the evening’s opening, another of the “Henry Wood Novelties”: Debussy’s sparkling, languorous Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, which received its UK premiere in 1904. Though now a cliché of the orchestral repertoire, the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave a startlingly fresh and detailed presentation. A short Prom at under two hours, and not massively well-attended, but a privilege to hear these classics played by such a world-class orchestra and conductor.

1,350 £6 Promming tickets are available on the day for every performance.

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