One Sunday, two prom concerts at the Royal Albert Hall:
Prom 11: Mahler Symphony No 8, Symphony of a Thousand
At least five hundred in the two choirs plus children’s voices, a hundred and fifty or more in the orchestra with doubled up first desks for the woodwind and augmented strings, doubled up soloists, Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand packs an undoubted punch. Popular too, probably a thousand queuing outside for the many promenade tickets for sale on the door - this prom was one of the first to sell out when booking for seats opened online. And the capacity audience were not disappointed at all.
Any performance of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, his Symphony No. 8, is a major achievement of music as well of logistics but the programming juxtaposition of Mahler’s Eighth on the night following Beethoven’s Ninth, with which it has been compared, can’t be left without comment. Beethoven’s Ninth was massive in its time, its challenge casting a long musical shadow forwards in time which succeeding composers found hard to break out from. Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand towered similarly over the concert programmes of the latter part of twentieth century. But this week we have heard one of Shostakovich’s symphonies and Messaen’s Turangalîla, even Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, all of these speak less loudly but no less clearly. Putting Mahler’s work in context, the Symphony of a Thousand remains supremely loud but there are now many other voices to hear in the symphonic repertoire.
So thank you for BBC Proms for the blast tonight. This evening I’ve been lucky enough to hear the renowned Symphony of a Thousand in full voice from right down there in the front of the Albert Hall arena and amongst fellow promenaders. It was as good a performance as anyone has a right to demand. Now let’s move on.
Prom 10: Faure, Franck and Widor’s Toccata
Iveta Apkalna took us on a journey starting from Widor’s Toccata, probably one of the two organ pieces recognisable by almost everyone (as with Bach’s Toccata). The Latvian organist played fluidly, fast enough but not metronomically, showcasing the Willis organ’s huge range of registration and power to emphasise Widor’s symphonic development in this movement from his Organ Symphony No. 5.
Then Franck’s Piece Heroique, less well known and without the “symphonic” tag but equally more than a fantasy in its scope. Iveta Apkalna’s own arrangement of Faure’s well-known Pavane, with the huge organ delivering celestial whispers. One of J.S. Bach’s revelatory Fantasias, not so often performed and with a twist at the end,; the Bach included in the programme as a reference on this recital journey.
George Thomas Thalben-Ball must surely have performed his Variations on a Theme by Paganini on just this organ, if not he would have had this instrument in mind when he composed the piece. Magnificent virtuosity from Iveta Apkalna..
Finally, unknown territory. Iveta Apkalna tempting us with a taste of accessible contemporary organ music, Thierry Escaich’s Deux Évocations.
Iveta Apkalna’s style is concert rather than English cathedral, true to the music rather than French Romantic or Cavaillé-Coll exhibitionist but nonetheless she gave a great many of the stops and manuals of this enormous instrument a thorough airing. I doubt if the Albert Hall mice have got much sleep recently!
An enthusiastic reception from the audience, then an extra.
Prom 11: Mahler Symphony of a Thousand
Mahler: Symphony No 8 in E flat major, ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ Tamara Wilson (soprano)
Camilla Nylund (soprano)
Joélle Harvey (soprano)
Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano)
Claudia Huckle (contralto)
Simon O’Neill (tenor)
Quinn Kelsey (baritone)
Morris Robinson (bass)
Southend Boys’ Choir
Southend Girls’ Choir
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Chorus
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Thomas Søndergård (conductor)
Prom 10: Faure, Franck and Widor’s Toccata
Widor: Organ Symphony No 5 in F minor, Op 42
Franck: Trois Pièces - Pièce héroïque
Fauré: Pavane (arr. Apkalna)
J.S. Bach: Fantasia in G major, BWV 572
Sir George Thomas Thalben-Ball: Variations on a Theme by Paganini (A Study for the Pedals)
Thierry Escaich: Deux Évocations
Iveta Apkalna, organ