BBC Radio 3 sound OB trucks outside the Royal Albert Hall

Radio 3 Outside Broadcast trucks at the Proms, 2018

Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London

No opportunity this year to queue outside the Albert Hall, to stand in the hall promenader to promenader, sweaty shoulder to sweaty shoulder, within spitting distance of the brass and avoiding eye contact with the string players. Ah, those summers of not so long ago. But we have instead a tasty season of BBC recordings from this iconic but acoustically challenging venue.
In presenting these my comments, we have to be aware of the various difficult circumstances of live concert sound balancing. Limitations of crewing, rig and rehearsal time, compatibility with television and so on. That our friends at Radio 3 manage so much is to be celebrated not nit-picked. Nonetheless, in scheduling a season from the archive (for reasons we well understand), it’s also an invitation to compare the styles of stereo sound we have enjoyed, especially as they are rebroadcast this year in glorious HD sound, in quick succession and within the same presentation format. Good to hear at least some of the original presentation, voices no longer on our radios.
But just to comment on the stereo sound. I’m listening on full-range speakers in my basement room which has extensive acoustic treatment and very low ambient noise, comparable to a sound studio control room.

Read more: Proms 2020 - stereo sound crit

Don Giovanni from the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm

Live opera restarts with Mozart’s chilling D minor chord from the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, as their socially distanced production of Don Giovanni breaks the silence from the opera houses since March.

First page of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, K527
Symbolism pervades even more than usual in a Mozart opera. Don Giovanni, the promiscuous but lovable rake would be a super-spreader in Covid-19 parlance, there’s the masked ball of Act 1 and the banquet in Act 2, which arrives in take-away boxes.

Read more: Don Giovanni - live opera restarts

Super Sunday by Race Horse Company at Brighton Dome

Parkour, acrobatics, plyometrics, clownery and some very modern on-stage attitude combined in Super Sunday by Race Horse Company of Finland. Six athletic artistes and their crew won over a mixed Christmas audience with their Contemporary Circus skills and dark wit in this full-length performance at Brighton Dome. Many of the tricks which looked so simple were probably the most difficult to carry off because of the critical timing co-ordination and delicate balance. We saw the human catapults, the life-size teddy bear rocketed to the roof and the acrobatics on teeterboards and trampolines. Their iconic hamster wheel routine, which ended the show, was a triumph from another dimension, the performers working acrobatics within the moving reference and balance of the revolving wheels.

Read more: Super Sunday - Race Horse Company at Brighton Dome

Brighton Philharmonic at the Brighton Dome

The Brighton Philharmonic return with their New Year Viennese Gala. Varied as ever and not restricted to the music of the Strauss family of the 1860s and 1870s, Brighton’s own orchestra draws a near sell-out audience to Brighton Dome on New Year’s Eve. Conductor Stephen Bell mounted the podium with a hop, skip and a jump and bounced along in the programme.
The Brighton Philharmonic is growing in strength and confidence, it’s obviously not an international orchestra though a number of the individual players work at that level for their day job. A sparking Die Fledemaus overture opened the concert with glorious woodwind. Ailish Tynan, soprano, was in good voice for the first of several vocal pieces. The woodwind continued to delight, as did the precise xylophonist. Franz Lehár’s Gold and Silver Waltz rounded off the first part of the programme, the strings giving a credible swirl to the sumptuous main waltz tune even in the relatively austere architecture of the Brighton Dome.

Read more: New Year’s Eve 2019 Viennese Gala

Bernard Haitink, Emanuel Ax and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

A great Proms moment and the end of an era: Bernard Haitink applauds Emanuel Ax and the Vienna Philharmonic after playing Beethoven together for probably the last time at the Proms

I had to ask and look to check whether the piano tonight was the Albert Hall’s usual Steinway Grand because Emanuel Ax played the opening run so delicately it could have been a forte-piano. This was the tone of his performance throughout, ethereal, great delicacy, precision and charm. Hardly a hint of Sturm und Drang.
Maybe my mood was set by seeing the veteran conductor Bernard Haitink walk on stage to cheers from the audience, face beaming though walking with all the difficulty of a maestro now in his ninetieth year; tonight’s interpretation of the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto struck me as much with pathos as with beauty.
Emanuel Ax played softly and delicately, straining the concentration of the audience, seemingly pulling us in to the world of two musicians who have made great music together many many times but who both know this is coming to an end. We were privileged to hear piano playing at the other end of the experience spectrum to “Young Musician”: clarity of interpretation, depth, serenity and poise.

Read more: Prom 60 - Bernard Haitink, Emanuel Ax and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra