Music review: Prom 37: BBC SSO, Alexander Gavrylyuk & Thomas Dausgaard

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Prom 37 began with a moment to make the heart stop. Out of the shadows at the back of the darkened auditorium came the sound of a muted Russian orthodox chant, and black-robed singers processed slowly into view – the Latvian Radio Choir, singing an Easter chant. One wanted it to go on for ever, but as it ended, orchestra and pianist took up the melody without missing a beat, and we were into the opening movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 3.

Royal Albert Hall, London ****

But the bated-breath intensity was maintained by both orchestra and soloist, the elaborate pianism being delivered with muted restraint. The effect of this musical juxtaposition – which I have never encountered before – was to show how deeply Orthodox chant is embedded in Rachmaninov’s music, whether intentionally or not: as Geoffrey Norris observed in his programme-note, the sonority of bells and chants would inevitably have been implanted in the composer’s subconscious from his earliest years.

Even in the short cadenza this Ukrainian-born Australian pianist maintained a ruminative eloquence, his warm tone blending perfectly with that of the orchestra. But the finale of this much-loved work requires a very different kind of pianism, and here too Gavrylyuk shone, digging furiously into the keyboard to galvanise an orchestra which was more than ready to be galvanised to create the barn-storming close. After which his encore – Rachmaninov’s exquisitely-turned arrangement of his Vocalise – brought us back to the initial mood of hushed benediction.

The rest of this Prom consisted of the same composer’s Second Symphony, with Thomas Dausgaard expertly steering the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra through a beautifully-organised forest of melody in which the clarinet, horn, and flute solos were immaculately played.

MICHAEL CHURCH