Last year at the Proms, I heard an excellent performance of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto with Julia Fischer as soloist. Last night's performance by Lisa Batiashvili was, if anything, even better -- her Cadenza enough to bring tears to your eyes. I've rarely heard such fine violin playing in concert, and will certainly be checking out her latest album, which includes this concerto among other works.
Unusually, this was actually the only Prom this season to include Shosty's music. The Philharmonia Orchestra preceded the Concerto with the suite from the Age of Gold. Their performance seemed to lack fire at first, but things perked up in the famous Polka, which had the audience chuckling along. And for her encore, Batiashvili chose the Lyrical Waltz from Seven Dolls' Dances, arranged by her father Tamas.
There was some kerfuffle at the beginning of the second half, when a couple of unpleasant middle-aged women sat in someone else's seats in our row and refused to move (apparently their argument was that someone else had sat in their seats, so they in turn were entitled to steal seats from other people). This meant that the opening bars of Stravinsky's 1946 revision of Petrushka were punctuated with the sounds of managers being called and negotiations being carried out. (Apparently throwing out the impostors was deemed too disruptive, and so the rightful owners of the seats were escorted to more expensive seats further down the Hall.)
I have never much cared for Stravinsky; he seems to be the one composer idolised by people who don't really like or understand modern classical music. I found some support for this idea in the number of people who didn't turn up till the second half, and then left as soon as Petrushka was finished. But the Philharmonia's playing was enough to win me over, and I enjoyed the half hour.
What came next was even better, though -- Tchaikovsky's symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini. This isn't Tchaikovsky's best known work, but I love the way it combines tender love themes with vivid depictions of the swirling winds in the second circle of Hell. Francesca has been treated with some sympathy by most artists (including perhaps Dante himself), and I couldn't help wondering if her story had reminded Tchaikovsky of his own forbidden love -- the homosexuality he was forced to conceal.