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Fiddling while London burns - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
qatsi
qatsi
Fiddling while London burns
For the moment I'm writing about the things I have experienced over the past few days, and they are much more joyous than events that have been going on not very far from them.

Sunday's Prom was part of the "Choral Sundays" season, and I'd picked it out for the choral work in the second half. However, the first half was a welcome and interesting performance of Brahms' Violin Concerto with soloist Christian Tetzlaff. I've seen this work before, with Joshua Bell, and I have to say, I much preferred this week's performance. I think that's largely down to personality rather than technical skill; Tetzlaff was passionate but reserved, whereas Bell carries quite a large ego around with him. Fittingly to follow a work that always makes me think of Bach's violin works, Tetzlaff gave an encore from one of Bach's partitas for solo violin. The second half was Mahler's Das klagende Lied. We had a pre-Prom talk on this work, which was very useful in understanding the work (especially on the double meaning of klagende - normally translated as lamentation but perhaps better translated as accusation or testament), but unfortunately had too many samples (from the Rattle/CBSO recording) of what turned out to be a better performance. Although Edward Gardner certainly put his energy into the conducting, the BBC SO didn't quite fill the hall with the sound I would have liked. The first appearance of the off-stage band (from up in the gallery) was clumsy, more like Charles Ives than Mahler, though their further appearances were more controlled. The choir and most of the choral soloists seemed fine - especially Anna Larsson, filling in at short notice after her performance in the Mahler 2 a couple of days previously - though the boy's voices also struggled I thought once or twice with a very difficult vocal line distinct from the orchestral melody. Perhaps it was simply that some of the orchestra on the stage and in the gallery should have swapped places.

On to Monday, and I didn't have an auspicious start, due to the closure of Caversham Road for re-surfacing, and I almost gave up in the gridlock. Finally I escaped to park up towards the University. Nevertheless I found myself in the second row of the arena for the Prom given by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo. The concert began with Sibelius' Symphony No. 6, an austere work but one that was given the requisite energy by the performers. Interestingly, Oramo chose to conduct the work essentially without any gaps between the movements, which worked well and perhaps offers insight into the single-movement seventh symphony. Alice Sara Ott joined the orchestra for Grieg's Piano Concerto. As far as I could tell, she played all the right notes, in the right order, and she played them very well, with an amazing lightness of touch, energy and sense of rhythm, and bare feet, and as if that wasn't enough (and of course, Prommers can never get enough), she gave us an encore of Liszt'sLa campanella. The single work after the interval was Nielsen's Symphony No. 4 (Inextinguishable). Unlike Sibelius, I've never really engaged with Nielsen's work. I don't think it's about to become a favourite, but I did feel it was a good performance. One thing that was striking throughout the concert was the range of smiles throughout the orchestra: clearly they were enjoying themselves. So it was good to get an encore - predictably perhaps, for this Nordic programme, it was from Alfven - but rather than one of the rhapsodies it was a Shepherdess' Dance.

To my amazement, on Wednesday I was fifth in the queue, and consequently I had a good place on the rail. Apparently Promming numbers were notably down on Tuesday and as in other areas, a certain amount of Blitz spirit had set in. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits began a programme of music that was largely new to me with Liszt's symphonic poem Mazeppa. As is often the case with Liszt I found it pleasant enough but perhaps not spectacular. The work that had piqued my interest for this concert was Glière's Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, with Ailish Tynan as the soloist. It was interesting and I'll definitely be listening to it again, though it's a much smaller work in every sense than the monumental Symphony No. 3 I heard at the Proms a few years ago. In the second half, I recognised some themes from Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2. As I don't know the piece well, I'm not sure whether it is a valid comment, but I did feel the orchestra seemed a little ragged in one or two places, although that could be the way it's written - Rachmaninov's symphonies were often cut by conductors until that generally fell out of fashion, and I find it understandable as they do sometimes ramble without purpose. Nevertheless it was well appreciated by the audience. As the concert finished promptly, I was able to take the short walk through Hyde Park. The train ran to time, and I was in my car in time to catch the start of the Steve Reich Late Night Prom on the radio.

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