Saturday, July 28, 2007

Prom 19: Strauss/Britten/Nielsen (RAH)

Richard Strauss' Macbeth is exactly the sort of piece that only gets performed in long concert seasons that feature a Shakespearean theme. There is no other reason to play, or listen to, this dreary tosh.

Next up we were supposed to hear a rare outing for Britten's Our Hunting Fathers, but unfortunately singer Lisa Milne fell ill and no-one else was available who knew the piece well enough to do it at short notice, so instead we hear another vocal work of Britten's, Les Illuminations. Joan Rodgers steps into the breach wonderfully (as apparently she did at Aldeburgh last year, when Milne cried off sick at the last minute from the very same work...), as do the Hallé, and Britten's settings of Rimbaud are wonderful, but it's a bit of a shame to sacrifice something I and probably many others in the ausience have never heard for a piece (albeit a great one) that's far more commonly heard; not to mention the nonsense it makes of the other Prom theme supposedly being represented, the centenary of the birth of Auden.

In the second half we hear the wonderful fourth symphony of Nielsen, a piece I have long loved, in which the Hallé under Mark Elder catch fire to produce possibly the single best performance I've heard so far at this year's Proms.What a shame the hall was half empty. I've never been able to fathom why Nielsen isn't massively popular, but on this showing he simply isn't a box office draw. Well, all those of us who were there experienced something quite magical, and all those of you who weren't missed out. I was transported into another world, and ( a sure sign of a fine performance) couldn't quite believe it was over so soon. One day, I hope, Nielsen will reach his rightful place at the forefront of the average concert-goer's consciousness.

They play an encore, something I'd not normally welcome after such a charged experience, but it's beautifully judged: a new orchestration by Colin Matthews of Debussy's last, long lost piano work, "Les soirs illuminée par l'ardeur du charbon", a delicate and refined couple of minutes that soothes our ears and readies us to return to the dark, wet night of London. We retire to a pub and revel in what we have heard.


Cheerful One said...

You quite liked the Strauss, then?

petemaskreplica said...

It is too soon to tell ;)

By the way, if anyone thinks I'm talking absolute nonsense about these pieces, don't forget you can hear all the proms online for 7 days after broadcast. And then you can come back here and tell me why I'm wrong :)