Tiddly-Om Prom Prom Prom Prom

Four proms! Bit of a backlog, sorry!

In brief, then: Mendelssohn’s Elijah (Prom 58) a couple of weeks ago was understated, but rich and rewarding. It’s one of a group of good-but-perhaps-not-great choral pieces which form the backbone of amateur choral singing. The tale of a firebrand preacher and his travails occasionally reaches genuine fever pitch but much of it is taken at an amble, though a pleasant one. Not a spectacular piece – more safe and solid – but consummately played and beautifully sung by an array of choirs under the direction of Paul McCreesh.

If only the same could be said for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Prom 61), which was a bit of a disaster. I always try to get to the Proms’ Ninths, being probably my favourite piece of all-time (wow, outré, I know), but this version was a dud. To be fair to the choirs – the BBC Symphony and Philharmonia Choruses – their entry marked a great improvement on the first three-and-a-half movements which were error-strewn both in terms of timing and notation. Of the soloists, Iain Paterson (bass-baritone) was outstanding. What David Robertson was up to as conductor I’m not sure. The intricate parts were taken so fast as to exacerbate the technical errors, whereas some of the more exciting, pacy sections were taken at a ponderous crawl. The brass had a woeful night, harrumphing their way through erroneous motifs and mistimed entries, and the woodwind fared little better. One to forget, unfortunately, which was a shame for the Fitkin/Yo-Yo Ma first half – a fascinating musical experiment then eclipsed by a bungled classic.

Fortunately I only had to wait four days for the Beethoven karma to be restored with a wonderful performance of the Missa Solemnis (Prom 67), which was – until the Mahler 5 – my prom of the season. A very good piece, if a little front-loaded, the Missa Solemnis rarely garners the plaudits of its more illustrious comparables. Whether this is because Beethoven is more obviously on firmer ground orchestrally I’m not sure, but the Missa as delivered here was as subtle as Bach’s Passions (though lacking their grand thematic resolutions) and as lush as Brahms’ Requiem (though again, once beyond the opening, without the big-hitting themes). Perhaps that’s the problem – it’s all of a piece, and at a fairly sustained level; that’s a problem only in as much as it demands attention though. I actually found myself happily able to drift away into a sort of trance.

Then, just two days later, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (Prom 69) raised the stakes further. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under Honeck, were simply breathtaking. Playing with none of the icy technical reserve which sometimes afflicts North American ensembles (but likewise none of the bungling which afflicted the BBCSO a few nights earlier!), the PSO gave a lush, bright, and crisp rendition. So much of the performance was flawless, from the snatch of Wagner’s Lohengrin which opened the programme, via backing Ann-Sophie Mutter’s personalised Gesungene Zeit by Rihm. The Mahler, though, was the apex. With its nods to Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, it’s an epic romantic symphony but tinged with the detachment of modernity. Somehow it brings Thomas Mann to mind, with that collision of the past and the present at a particular time. Just great – catch it on iPlayer if you can!

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 3:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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