July 21st, 2016


Proms Novelties

I expected the queue to be much shorter for Prom 7, and it was, right up until the last hour or so. I easily got a space on the rail for a concert of unfamiliar works by familiar composers. I also got sunburn on my knees as a result of sitting half in the sun for most of the afternoon.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Mark Minkowski began with Fauré's Shylock suite, from a play rather loosely based on The Merchant of Venice. Tenor Julien Behr sung two of the numbers from towards the back of the orchestra, which certainly conveyed his ability to rise over the orchestral sound. The music itself was light and pleasant enough, though perhaps the titles of the pieces were dubious on occasion - Madrigal in particular sounded incongruous, as there was no attempt to invoke anything other than a nineteenth-century sound.

After a short rearrangement on the stage, a smaller orchestra gathered with many of the principals standing for Stravinsky's Pulcinella suite. I suspected that I would recognise bits of this and find others unfamiliar, and I was right. From the start, it was an energetic and exciting performance. Though some of the themes are taken from Pergolesi and others, there's no doubt they inhabit Stravinsky's sound world, perhaps a theatrical parallel to Prokofiev's Classical Symphony.

The second half of the concert was a single work, Poulenc's Stabat Mater. The programme notes described this as "vintage Poulenc", and they were correct, with a levity of style and idiosyncratic harmonies. Wagner's Tristan chord may be famous, but it seems to me that Poulenc is one of many others whose works are readily identifiable archetypes. The BBC Singers and soprano Julie Fuchs provided the vocals, covering a wide range of emotion, often angst-ridden, but sometimes tender.