On Tuesday, I was surprised by the shortness of the queue, given that it was Daniel Barenboim again. I supposed that (a) Martha Argerich and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra were probably the main attractions to the concert I'd attended earlier, and (b) at least some schools had gone back (I could testify to this by my drive into Reading in the morning). However it was a queue that was building steadily, rather than arriving all at the last minute. I think it was only the second pre-Prom talk I'd been to this year; the venue at Imperial College hasn't impressed me either by its appearance or by its organisation. Most often the talks relate fairly directly to the works being performed, but this time there was a topical contrast; Adrian Tinniswood and Thomas Charlton talked informatively and entertainingly about the aftermath of the Great Fire of London. The concert was the second of a pair given by the Staatskapelle Berlin, directed by Daniel Barenboim. In the first half, he was the soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 26 ("Coronation"). The conventional arrangement of the piano side-on to the audience favours the season ticket holders' side of the Arena, but with a pianist-conductor, the stage was set with the piano face-on to the orchestra, which gave a more equitable view. Being neither a particular fan of Mozart nor Barenboim, I found the performance quite enjoyable, without really shifting my pulse. The second half was Bruckner's Symphony No. 6. I'm only slightly familiar with this work, but given the general Bruckner theme at the end of this season, I thought I would give it a go. At the end of the second movement, a loud ker-thunk somewhere behind and to my right suggested someone had fainted, fortunately not a frequent occurrence since air conditioning was introduced to the Hall; Barenboim turned to the audience between movements to check whether or not to proceed. The music was passable, but to be honest, it was a case of brilliant moments and tedious half-hours, though I might be tempted to persevere with it.
Then on Wednesday, something of a case of rinse-and-repeat: again a German orchestra with a Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 21)/Bruckner (Symphony No. 3) programme. In this case, the orchestra was the Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the oldest orchestras in the world. Conductor Christian Thielemann bore a passing resemblance to Ed Balls, and pianist Daniil Trifonov seemed to have gone for a Rasputin look. I may be mistaken as I don't really know the concerto, but it did seem that Trifonov badly lost sync with the orchestra a couple of times in the first movement and faded out for a few bars; however the second movement, the famous "Elvira Madigan" andante, was well played. He gave an encore from Prokofiev's Cinderella. After my ambivalence of the earlier Bruckner, I did wonder whether I had done the right thing, but I know the third symphony quite well, and felt confident I would enjoy it. This proved to be the case. The performers had chosen the 1876 version, whereas my CD is of the 1889 version; the differences turned out to be mostly in the form of further cuts in the latter. I would say I prefer the 1889 version, though there were some interesting extra sections in the scherzo that I feel could have stayed. On the whole, though, I'm satisfied with my choice and it was a good concert on which to finish the season.