BBC Proms 2016: Dvorak’s Cello Concerto

I ended up taking an alternative route into work this morning: Hither Green to Canon Street; District Line to Embankment; Bakerloo Line to Oxford Circus.

It always surprises me when I discover routes into work I’ve previously overlooked. Canon Street – a destination I always regard as the last chance saloon if I’m running late for work – isn’t that much more inconvenient that my usual route. I don’t know why I don’t use that route more often.

It’s a different travel experience. There’s a highly-prized space to be savoured when I arrive at Canon Street concourse after the early morning City rush. The District Line is quieter too. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an air-conditioned train. A change is (nearly) as good as the rest I had in Verbier at the weekend.

The journey helps me focus on last night’s Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. And as I do so I remember there was a time when I quite liked it. I thought it was a dead cert of a work. Pleasant. Slightly exotic-sounding. I’d gone to St Alban’s cathedral to hear my then girlfriend play it in a college orchestra concert. I thought it was true love. A few weeks late r- on Valentine’s Day as I recall – she called to say she was with someone else now and things probably couldn’t really continue.

She didn’t ruin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto at all. But after Beethoven’s Op.130 at the weekend, and the opening of Brahms’ first piano quartet, I’ve become a bit more demanding. Dvorak, with his slavish devotion to folk tunes and instance that any half-decent idea should be repeated at least once, makes me feel like the whole thing is a bit of an exercise now.

The concerto isn’t as presenter Clemency Burton-Hill keenly points out, for me at least, all sadness and sentimentality. That’s too simplistic a description, perhaps even trite.

I’m the first one to respond (surprisingly positively) to a bit of melancholy. I’m also partial to sentimentality, so long as I’m indulging in it in my own company.

For me, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto has an overriding air of resignation about it. It remains pleasant to listen to, but predictable. Dvorak doesn’t really take me on a journey from one place to another. He’s only ever transported me to a place and then left me there. It’s as though Dvorak and I go on a picnic somewhere undeniably pretty but for some reason he never really explains, he leaves early to go someplace else. I’m left with the dirty plates, and the journey home to embark upon on my own.

Musically speaking, he moans and whines in the cello concerto. He keeps going on about the same point over and over again. I get the point he’s making early on in the first movement. Come the last movement, with the incessant repetitions built into Dvorak’s compositional structure, I’m irritated by his love of repetition to underline the point. Quit whining boyo. Get over whatever it is you’re obsessing about and take action.

I suspect that’s the reason I only really find the final section – the bit where it feels like we’re skidding towards the end – of interest. At that point Dvorak has taken action. He’s moved beyond the self-indulgent resignation that has gone before and said goodbye. The final few bars are a farewell, with a defiant promise of something different to follow.

In TV drama terms this is the end of a series with a promise from the continuity announcer that the programme “will return next year” as the final credits roll.

When I leave the BBC it will be those final few bars of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto I’ll listen to as I walk away from the revolving doors. To be clear, neither me nor the BBC have got there quite yet.



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