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Urbi et Orbi - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
qatsi
qatsi
Urbi et Orbi
I've finished off this Proms season with two wonderful concerts.

Monday's Prom was Rome-themed, although the weather was more reminiscent of Hadrian's Wall than the Eternal City. The guest orchestras have been more spread out this season, but there still seems to be a concentration towards the end: this time it was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Charles Dutoit. They began with Berlioz's Roman Carnival overture before moving on to Walton's Sinfonia concertante with pianist Danny Driver, who could easily have been mistaken for Rob Brydon.

The second half of the concert had been one of the season highlights at a first look through the programme: Respighi's Roman trilogy of symphonic poems. The pre-Prom talk was a discussion of Respighi's life and music - in particular, whether he associated with the Italian fascists in the 1920s and 1930s. The speakers took the view that artists considered themselves above politics, that there was ample evidence that Mussolini liked Respighi's music, and that in any case at that time such a political leaning would not have been out of the ordinary. The cycle was performed not chronologically, but probably in the most sensible dramatic ordering: first Roman Festivals, then Fountains of Rome and finally Pines of Rome, with its triumphant (menacing? Imperial?) closing march along the Appian Way.

Tuesday was very different all round: the weather was much improved, the queue was amazingly short and I found myself on the rail. This was the first visit to the Proms of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Lan Shui. The pre-Prom talk discussed contemporary Singaporean culture, with a natural bias towards music and the orchestra, which is in fact very ethnically mixed. The concert began with Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmilla overture. Serious commentators often talk about the "sound" of particular orchestras: I'm not sure I could really describe it, but I did feel there was something a little out of the ordinary here.

If Monday's pianist looked like Rob Brydon, then Tuesday's pianist sounded like Glenn Gould, as Andreas Haefliger hummed along in places in the European premiere of Zhou Long's Postures. This was a very interesting piece taking Chinese influences and using the piano very much as a percussive instrument from the start of the first movement, "Pianodance". In the second movement, "Pianobells", Haefliger leaned into the piano and strummed across the lower strings - I'd been tipped off about this by one of the other regulars - it's something I've never seen before. It was perhaps more effective as an effect than the pitchless air blowing through the accordion I'd seen at an earlier concert in the season. The final movement, "Pianodrums", was the most melodic, but also jazzy and energetic, taking its influence according to the programme notes from the Monkey King character of Peking Opera. Haefliger gave us an encore of Berio's Wasserklavier - quite sublime, the composer of which I would never have guessed.

The second half of the concert was Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2. It's a long piece, about an hour, and I can understand in principle why it has historically been performed with cuts, although I wouldn't like to suggest myself which parts should be removed. It's a quintessential Rachmaninov blend of late Romanticism and sentimentality with lots of "big tunes". Finally, we had an orchestral encore: Walton's March for A History of the English-speaking Peoples. From the title I guessed that it might have been music for a radio or TV adaptation of Churchill's work, a theory confirmed by Teh Interweb, although apparently the project was abandoned. The work was typical Walton, with passages certainly reminding me of Crown Imperial and the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue.

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