Last night's Prom was the treat of walking from home to the Royal Albert Hall to hear Beethoven and Mahler Symphonies played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Just the idea of being the idea of being able to walk to such a concert is an enormous treat: the Beethoven's fourth Symphony was one of the first I got to follow in the score, in the recording by Arturo Toscanini which featured and highlighted the (then) bassoon virtuoso.
Sir Simon Rattle's Beethoven Symphony performances on record were themselves revelations, even if apparently the product of much post-production in the recordings.
It was a rainy day in Arles at the end of May when I made my Proms bookings immediately after breakfast. Despite booking online first thing on the opening day of the Proms booking, I ended up seated in the Choir seats behind the orchestra for the first time since the Colston Hall concerts I went to as a Clifton College, Bristol school kid. The result was a very analytical sound, seated within the acoustic that the orchestra play to rather than in the hall acoustic, to where their orchestra "deliver" their sound. So mostly direct sound with almost no reverberation to cover and blend and a strange balance with the second violins more prominent than the first, and the woodwind at times piercing. And perception of timing and ensemble possibly suspect due to being in front of the conductor not behind.
The Beethoven Four was a performance which rode the knife edge between an interpretation looking backwards to Haydn and Sturm und Dram and forwards to Brahms and Bruckner. I had the impression that Sir Simon was conducting as one of the team rather than from the front, guiding end encouraging the players of this famous orchestra to produce their music. And it worked, the interpretation was fresh and dynamic.
The Mahler alternated between tension and drama and thrilled us in the hall. Any performance of a Mahler symphony is a huge achievement; sitting in the choir seats and following in the score highlighted how the orchestra balances internally to achieve ensemble and play the acoustic. As well as holding together the tortuous wanderings of the first movement and bringing off the spectacular climaxes of the last movement, this performance made good sense of the jazzy rhythms of the third movement.
Mahler's Symphonies have fewer possibilities for re-interpretation than Beethoven's: this was a thrilling performance by a famous orchestra and sent us happy and thrilled out of the hall, now nearly at the end of the Proms season.