This year, as might be expected, the music of Britten features heavily in the BBC Proms – yet Roger Wright has sensibly spread the delights over the whole season, so it is to be hoped saturation coverage will be avoided.
Good Morning Britten will aim to appraise most or all of the performances of Britten repertoire, beginning with the opening night performance of the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and their new chief conductor Sakari Oramo.
Oramo has a reputation for securing performances of great clarity as well as passion, and his Sibelius cycle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was particularly fine. Both elements boded well for the interludes, and anyone hoping for a detailed rendering of the four Suffolk seascapes was not to be disappointed.
Yet there was a vital element missing, though it was difficult to quantify. Strong as the playing was, with illuminating ‘reveals’ of orchestration, it felt like we were watching the sea from behind a window, rather than actually standing on the shore with the spray full on your face.
There were many fine things. Dawn found the violins gliding smoothly on the morning air, and in Sunday Morning the rhythms were impressively vital. Moonlight gave the impression of a rowing boat, the attack on the chords going forwards and then back a tiny bit, giving a curious quality to the sound. The Storm, when it arrived, was the most impressive of the four, a tempestuous weather system. What light there was glinted off some particularly savage waves, the brass as sharp as a needle and the rolling timpani of John Chimes surging to and fro, before a rather glassy calm was reached.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra were excellent, and Oramo had many fine things to offer in this Prom, especially in the Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony that followed the interval, but this particular performance of the Interludes, for this particular listener at any rate, fell just short of greatness.
You can watch the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo, performing the Four Sea Interludes on the BBC iPlayer