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Mister Stokowski! Mister Stokowski! - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
qatsi
qatsi
Mister Stokowski! Mister Stokowski!
With hindsight it was fairly obvious that I should have made an even earlier start on Saturday. As it was, I got to the Cadogan Hall for about quarter-past ten to find the queue stretching ominously round three sides of the building, and fifteen minutes later, a steward informed us that all the day tickets for the Brandenburg Concertos had been sold.

So, plan B was to visit the Tate and see the Rude Britannia exhibition, which was fun. The pieces ranged from the usual suspects of Gillray, Rowlandson and Cruickshank through to contemporary works. I particularly liked some of the "guest" curators of some of the rooms: commentary in the form of Viz cartoons from Roger Mellie (The Man on the Telly), and Harry Hill's collection for absurdism worked well - I particularly liked Yalta from the series entitled "Henry VIII's Wives":


The "bawdy" room ranged from seaside postcards to a video of some scenes from Carry on up the Khyber featuring Kenneth Williams and Bernard Bresslaw re-dubbed in Gujurati with a dodgy and explicit English translation in the form of subtitles. Ooh Matron!

At least my absence from the Cadogan Hall meant that I was able to join the queue at the Albert Hall early, and consequently was in the front row. Prior to the concerts, there was a more interesting talk presented by Sarah Less-Apples, with the evening concert's conductor Andrew Litton and composers Tarik O'Regan and Alissa Firsova, discussing Bach and the nature of transcription.

The late afternoon concert was an organ recital by David Briggs, beginning with Bach's spectacular and famous Passacaglia and Fugue, and the Chorale Prelude Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (commonly known as Sleepers, Awake!). We then moved on to some transcriptions of Bach to the organ - Stainton de B. Taylor's of Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep may safely graze) and Virgil Fox's of Komm, süsser Tod, komm, selge Ruh!, finishing with Briggs' own arrangement of the Orchestral Suite No. 3, and a delightful encore of an arrangement of the badinerie from the Orchestral Suite No. 2.

Mendelssohn is often credited with "rediscovering" Bach in the nineteenth century. I think this is something of an exaggeration; Mozart and Beethoven were certainly familiar with his work, though of course Mendelssohn was based in Leipzig, like Bach himself for many years. More prosaically, if anyone should be credited with rediscovering Bach - or at least, making the mass public aware of his work - it's probably Leopold Stokowski and the Walt Disney Corporation, who committed "the" Toccata and Fugue to celluloid as the opening piece in Fantasia. Never mind that it wasn't originally an orchestral work, and indeed scholarly opinion these days seems to reckon it wasn't even originally an organ work, or by Bach. Still, the rotund Litton summoned not only Stokowski's transcription to open the concert, but also his persona and physical gesturing. The concert proceeded through a variety of more-or-less direct transcriptions of Bach, including pieces from Henry Wood's own Suite No. 6, Walton's The Wise Virgins, and Percy Grainger's Blithe Bells. During the pre-Prom talk Litton had highlighted Grainer's idiosyncratic directions in the score, and also noted his description of the piece as "a free ramble on 'Sheep May Graze in Safety'", suggesting the mis-translation was no accident. The BBC commissions by the composers in the talk were of unfamiliar Bach pieces, but they were both reasonable, and Firsova's Bach Allegro seemed particularly popular with the audience, possibly in part for its range of obscure percussion instruments including one that looked suspiciously like an egg beater and sounded like someone playing the spoons. The Sargent and Bantock arrangements were not bad of themselves, but were perhaps the weakest pieces in the concert. The closing piece, however, was guaranteed to bring the house down: Respighi's entirely unauthentic, yet faithful, orchestration of the Passacaglia and Fugue with which David Briggs had opened his recital. Litton said during the talk that a successful transcription was one which didn't leave you wanting to hear the original: but on Bach day, we could have both.

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shui_long From: shui_long Date: August 15th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I heard the Brandenburgs and the organ recital on Radio 3, and am just about to catch up with the evening concert on iPlayer. Really should have made the effort to get up to London to hear it live.

The Brandenburgs seemed to be very successful as live performances, but perhaps not ones you'd want on record. It is incredibly difficult to play natural key-less horns in tune, and in Brandenburg 1 they didn't always succeed, but the concept (explained in the conversation between J E G and Katherine Bott) of the "wild" horns being somewhat civilised by the rest of the band came through quite clearly. I can never decide whether No 2 or No 4 is my favourite - both were good here.

I wasn't too sure about David Briggs' performance of the Passacaglia and Fugue - seemed a bit dull and pedantic - but he certainly got a good range of colour into his arrangement of Suite no.3. The radio broadcast was marred by the interview with him - Briggs thinks he's a comedian, and he is just not funny.
qatsi From: qatsi Date: August 15th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Definitely, on the subject of comedy, Briggs should stick to the day job. There did seem to be one or two odd pauses in some of the works - if it had been Just a Minute, he would have been challenged for hesitation - but I think he got away with it. I was surprised to see in the programme he's listed as a Proms debut artist, though I suppose the organ was out of commission for a few years which may go some way to explaining that.

I haven't tried at the Brandenburgs yet; on the Radio 3 messageboards there seems to be a lot of "that worked well if you were in the hall, but probably not so well on radio".
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