I thoroughly enjoyed this Prom. It was fun, it thrilled and it had light moments as well as the dark. The colour was turned right up full for the Alpine Symphony, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ilan Volkov seemed to be enjoying the piece and that came over in an exuberant joyous performance. The glacier amazed, the mountain peak thrilled and the storm threatened. The homecoming and the final resting peace completed Richard Strauss’ complicated score for a large orchestra. They carried it off with aplomb and more, a pride and sense of occasion. Lots of genuine smiles at the applause. Maybe it helps that they are Scottish and have their own mountains: surely many of them will take their boots to the hills when not performing.
The Alpine Symphony was certainly "maximum acoustic drama" on stage but it was Mozart’s Serenade K286 for Four Orchestras that was billed as "maximum acoustic drama" because the four bands performed from different locations in the hall, the stage, the rear of the arena, in the gallery and the circle. So this was like an Ambisonics demo with sound both all the way around and with height. I was standing down the front and the timing, as the themes were handing around by the score, reminded me of those attempts on the Last Night of the Proms to get remote audiences to sing along to the audience in the Albert Hall. But Mozart’s music thrived on the effect, transporting one to a warm summer evening performance in, say, a castle or a palace
Punk Beethoven turned out to be fast and furious. MusicAeterna play on period instruments so the sound is different and there is little or no vibrato. The first movement of the Symphony No 2 was promisingly reminiscent of Furtwängler, the musical pulse unrelenting, then the jokey Sturm und Drang effects and it seemed possible we were in for something extraordinary. The Larghetto flowed but it was only in the last movement, Allego Molto, that the limitations of Teodor Currentzis’s approach became clear. Fast and furious did not allow slowing of the pace either for musical effect or to allow good phrasing of the solo ornamentation in the woodwind, so on the period instruments these ornamentations became garbled or lost.. But an amazing crowd-pleasing vivacity and the strings of MusicAeterna have fantastic ensemble.
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.
Paul Lewis put the magic back in to the familiar thrills of the Emperor concerto. The style of this performance was Beethoven as forward-looking: Chopin rather than Mozart, romantic virtuoso rather than contrapuntal baroque fireworks. The persuasive runs and trills of the first movement weren’t simply exercises from a piano manual, Paul Lewis made them breathe and sing their music, highlighting the musical themes in the interplay between the lines of music in the two hands. It seemed there were some shortcuts in ornamentation but this was a live performance with television’s scrutiny included.
We heard an exhilarating and inspiring performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the tradition of Solti and Guilini. Donald Runnicles and the World Orchestra for Peace explored Beethoven’s counterpoint in the first movement in forensic but flowing detail, plenty of shape, the conductor encouraging the flow and counter flow of the musical voices with just small movements of his baton. Beethoven’s counterpoint was radical and miraculous at its premiere and is still a joy to behold even now.