Prom 27: Holloway, Strauss, Brahms

My first prom of the year, a fairly light programme but containing at its heart one of the finest works of the twentieth century…

The evening began with the premiere of Robin Holloway’s Fifth Concerto for Orchestra. There was an announcement to the effect that the movements would be played in a marginally different order, though since it was a premiere I’m not sure it was all that significant. As it was, the final movement played was the only one that sounded like a conclusion; I wonder whether the composer had gone for a subversive false-climax and anti-climax and then thought better of it. In any case the piece was interesting and (unusually for a contemporary premiere) melodic in an old-fashioned sense.

The Four Last Songs (R. Strauss) were perhaps not quite the finest I’ve heard at the Proms, but were nonetheless rich and sumptuous. I was tucked up in the cheap seats so Hillevi Martinpelto’s voice didn’t cut through in the quieter sections. A listen-back on the iPlayer this morning confirmed the impression that her voice was warm and strong with an effortless movement throughout the range; my only minor grumble was the few awkward fricatives in Hesse’s quite demanding deployment of German. To my great irritation, the ushers were letting people in between the four songs, which meant that when the second, third and fourth began there were latecomers stranded walking up stairs and along rows. This did make the usual trance these wonderful pieces elicit a bit harder to sustain. But only a bit.

After an extortionate cuppa, Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major. Not, I would suggest, one of Brahms’ masterpieces, but a perfectly enjoyable work – a piece of paradigmatic romanticism with a little held back (perhaps a bit like Beethoven’s Fourth or Eighth in that respect, Brahms sometimes appearing a throwback by around sixty or seventy years, the opposite of Berlioz). It’s perhaps a bit polite and restrained, but this is made up for by a lovely mellifluous quality. Donald Runnicles teased a lot out of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra who really have been one of the outstanding ensembles over the last few seasons.

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Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 8:34 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. It’s inexcusable for the ushers to let people in between the songs. They are not four individual pieces, but one concept. Utter sacrilege in my opinion.

    Last time I saw the FLSs at the Proms, the soprano was rather quiet too. I wonder whether the RAH does badly with high frequencies, or whether it’s actually something to do with the scoring – that sumptuous orchestration. Amazing, amazing music though.

    • Every year people are noisier and less able to stifle coughs/sweet wrappers, but this really took the biscuit. They hardly had time to get up to the row between songs, let alone to the seats. Might send an angry email! Still, pales into insignificance next to impending financial disaster…

      I think you’re right about the frequencies. Either that or we are getting old.


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