Prom 52: Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky & Ryan Wigglesworth

Prom 52 was as much about Ryan Wigglesworth as its Mozart-to-modernity concept. This was the world premiere of his Piano Concerto, which “draws inspiration from the Classical perfection of Mozart” according to the programme notes. 

It may adhere to Classical structures – the four movements included an arioso, scherzo, notturno and gigue – but its sound was strident, uncertain: forgoing concordance for conflicting harmonic textures. Stylistically, the concerto owed more to Stravinsky than Mozart as sharp dashes of brass interrupted a quarrelsome piano and orchestra. Solo piano passages had a jagged virtuosity and almost semi-improvised feel. At times its fidgety affliction seemed to infect the Royal Albert Hall. Focus drifted in the softer sections as audience sputters and clatter grew.

The prom started with Wigglesworth in a kind of player-manager role, simultaneously conducting the Britten Sinfonia and duetting with Marc-André Hamelin during Mozart’s 1779 Concerto in E flat major for two pianos. The pair eloquently communicated Mozart’s exquisitely prissy score. Pristine precision characterised their playing, the two pianos sounding as one in ambrosial harmony. Dazzling scale runs were rapid but never rushed. Puckish pauses and diaphanous, fleet-of-finger touches had the playful poise of a mouse tiptoeing round a sleeping Tom-cat before gorging on cheese. Meanwhile the Britten Sinfonia forcefully delivered the concerto’s main theme as Wigglesworth arose from his stall with sweeping gestures.

Having characterised Mozart’s voice so assertively, Tchaikovsky’s seemed muffled by comparison. Formed from quotes and paraphrases of the Austrian’s music, ‘Mozartiana’ (1887) seemed an affectionate if overly reverential homage. The Sinfonia’s dutiful performance outlined the influence without the inspiration, though its final movement, comprising ten variations on Mozart’s melodies, offered a chocolate box of miniature delights from a hummingbird-flute solo to a final violin serenade.

Stravinsky’s ‘Divertimento’, a shortened suite from his 1928 ballet based on Tchaikovsky’s The Fairy Kiss, offered a greater balance of influence and originality. Unlike ‘Mozartiana’, the piece presented a thoughtful dialogue between two compositional styles, blending elegant string sections and Romantic sentimentality with simple repeated figures and Stravinsky’s signature staccato rhythms.


Feature image: Chris Christodoulou

Sam Taylor is an arts journalist who recently graduated with an English degree from UCL. He writes film and music reviews for the Financial Times, conducts interviews for The Cusp and edits London Student’s Review section. He has also been published by Jazzwise and The Independent and plays lead guitar in alt-rock band Where’s John?

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