The Rest Is Noise: Prokofiev Review

The Rest is Noise 2013/2014 concert series at Southbank had a well-defined 1950s programme on the 23rd October, with Prokofiev’s 7th Symphony sandwiched between Poulenc’s Piano Concerto and Stabat Mater.

The Rest is Noise is an entirely inspired tagline that would mean different things to different people – doubtless endorsing classical music in general and the performances in particular – but it struck me that it might also pertain to the impotence of the written word, no matter how learned, to describe the immersive and sensory feast that live music performances are.

I was torn between the need to take notes for the purpose of writing a review and the natural inclination to yield to the emotional call of the different pieces.

Not wishing to add to the noise of musical reviews and often pretentious academic vernacular, I will confine myself to describing the experience, in the hope it would encourage even the casual classical music listener to make the trip to Royal Festival Hall this season.

Poulenc’s “light” concerto, originally composed for himself (the composer was a performance pianist), is a frequently playful and occasionally portentous dialogue between keyboard (Alexandre Tharaud), winds and strings.

Tharaud looked suitably light-hearted but his performance was in turns delicate, theatrical, subtle and accomplished.

Equally accomplished and masterful Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted on the night and led the audience into the second offering of the evening, Prokofiev’s 7th, originally composed as a children’s piece.

Intricate orchestration, particular to the composer, interesting solos and vastly diverse four movements make this a sophisticated work, brilliantly and sensitively interpreted by Nézet-Séguin.

I am particularly partial to the 2nd movement which builds up to a glorious apotheosis of sounds, but also enjoy the final one which has interesting wind solos and ends, mystifyingly, on a quiet note that tends to confound less seasoned concert goers.

Poulenc’s Stabat Mater followed after the interval.  Poulenc felt he put the best of himself in his sacred music and certainly, the sheer size of the chorus is overwhelming.

Its relevance today is more of a celebration of human faith that springs eternal than in the glorification of Christ.

Poulenc’s Stabat Mater is scored for solo soprano, performed on this occasion very competently by Kate Royal. The London Philharmonic Choir was impressive in its rendition and Nézet-Séguin still faultless.

Even so, I would have preferred to end the evening on Prokofiev’s 7th, a sentiment shared by my companion also.

The concert hall was almost packed, something that restores one’s faith in humanity and the future of music appreciation. The fact is, nothing compares to the immersive and utterly uplifting experience that a live performance is.