qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves

After a half-day at work, the trip from Oxford to Reading was through a ferocious thunderstorm, with hail and heavy rain, but it had more or less cleared by the time I arrived. In London I took the opportunity to visit the Cartoon Museum's Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! exhibition, which has one week left to run. It's a slightly surreal place to visit, combining the sobriety of a museum or gallery with intermittent unsuccessful attempts by visitors to suppress laugh-out-loud moments. I suspect the combination of Steve Bell and Kenneth Baker as curators has ensured that the cartoons can be enjoyed by all political persuasions.

I joined the Proms queue ahortly after 4pm and consequently missed the worst of the weather. All the regulars were there; nothing changes. No Tamiflu available from the stewards yet, though given the legendary personal hygiene of some Prommers, I expect the "coughs and sneezes spread diseases" notices to be put up prominently before long.

The concert kicked off with Stravinsky's Fireworks; as the programme noted, a short piece that very clearly pays homage to The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Next, Chabrier's Ode à la Musique, sung by Ailish Tynan. It struck me how well her sound permeated the hall. The final piece in the first part of the concert - after a rallying cry of "Heave-Ho!" by the Prommers - was Tchaikovsky's single-movement Piano Concerto No.3. I'm not familiar with this work, but Stephen Hough seemed fairly convincing in it, making amends for his disastrous Rachmaninov of last season. The piece itself seemed curious and parhaps unsatisfactory and incomplete, in some places leaning towards Rachmaninov and a jazz or rag-time style, but in others more traditional Tchaikovsky fare. I suppose it would almost certainly have been revised by Tchaikovsky had he lived; it was performed only weeks before his death (Taneyev later added two more movements based on work by Tchaikovsky, but we only heard the single-movement version of the work).

After the first interval, the piece I had really come to see: Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos, performed by Katia and Marielle Labèque. I've seen this before at the Proms (from the Gallery), apparently in 1995, with the same duo at the keyboards. It's such a fun piece; I always feel that Poulenc is under-rated, though perhaps like Nigel Lawson's comment on Schubert, he has so many "tunes per square inch". I'm disappointed that for one reason or another I've missed his Organ Concerto every time it's been on at the Proms in recent years. We also had an encore, apparently by Adolfo Berio, a polka-galop for four hands.

This was a concert of three parts, mostly to allow for the stage changes for the two pianos. The final part wasn't so interesting for me: Elgar's In the South is a work I have heard before, but is for the most part instantly forgettable. Brahms' Alto Rhapsody with mezzo-soprano Alice Coote was mystic; Bruckner's setting of Psalm 150 was a fittingly uplifting finale to the concert, though Ailish Tynan didn't add much and I think a purely choral version might have been more effective.

Afterwards I disappeared into a Circle Line void (following the directions to take the tube to Earl's Court, changing for the other branch of the District Line; during the daytime this might work, but late in the evening you discover the train is only going as far as High Street Kensington, whereupon you have to wait for the Circle Line train you originally wanted anyway), but made it to Paddington just in time to discover that there is no 23:00 fast train to Reading, so I had to wait another 20 minutes and it was after midnight before I got home.
Tags: exhibitions, music
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