qatsi (qatsi) wrote,


Prom 9 was billed as a re-creation of a Prom from the 1958 season. Curiously, there wasn't any further explanation of why that was being done, or why this particular programme should have been chosen. To my eye it was an unusually conservative programme for the Proms, even for 1958, which has alway had quite a strong element of "new" and "modern" music.

But none of that is intended as negative criticism; indeed I had chosen this concert because of its programme, though the pieces were not quite at the top of my list in their respective genres. From the arena it looked like the seats were a sell-out, though the arena was not uncomfortably full; the queue wasn't long when I arrived, and I had a spot on the rail.

The concert opened with Mendelssohn's overture Ruy Blas. I expected to recognise tunes, and I did; but even without them, it had all the hallmarks of its composer. Mendelssohn, it seems to me, never really did Sturm und Drang: the darker passages are never all that dark, there's a rhythmic regularity and melodic line that is often on the edge of veering into G&S territory. The concert continued with his Symphony No. 4 ("Italian") - a more familiar work, again lots of levity, though with a more sombre slow movement.

Unlike the 1958 concert, there were two intervals, one either side of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2. In the last year or two I've wondered whether the "Heave-Ho!" cry (as the piano lid is lifted, the Arena shouts "Heave!", to which the Gallery replies "Ho!") has died out, but it was present and in good voice last night. As, of course, was the round of applause when the leader of the orchestra hit the 'A' key during their final tuning. It's funny how critical Prommers can be of any number of behaviours (generally attributed to newcomers, tourists or corporate hospitality audience members in the boxes), but are so indulgent of their traditions (is the applause for the 'A' sincere, or is it a swipe at people who will applaud anything?).

Lars Vogt was the soloist for the concerto. Sometimes I wonder if pianists sit in front of the mirror practising facial expressions; unlike violinists, who trap the instrument under their chin, or wind or brass players, a full range of expressions is available. There was a passing resemblence to Niles Crane, exaggerated perhaps by his highly strung and emotive playing style. Bĕlohlávek was the perfect foil for this, as impassive as ever throughout. The whole performance of pianist and orchestra was accomplished, including the significant horn and cello parts.

After the second interval, the final piece in the concert was Brahms' Symphony No. 2. This is my least favourite of the four symphonies, but that's not to say that I don't like it; it's just that the others all have a little bit more to them. It might be possible to mistake some passages in the First Symphony for Beethoven, but in the second Brahms has most definitely moved on. Bĕlohlávek took the relatively unusual step of repeating the opening exposition - I'm neutral on whether it worked, but it was a worthwhile experiment (there seems to have been some uncertainty in Brahms' mind on this matter). As the concert wound to its inevitable finale, I had the feeling of being satisfied, but not challenged. The audience was appreciative; interestingly, there hadn't been any applause in-between movements in any of the pieces.
Tags: music
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