The first half of Prom 44 was a performance of Berg's Lulu suite. It was not something I had been in any hurry to hear, so was pleasantly surprised at the lyricism of its opening. However some of the later sections were fairly hardcore examples of twelve-tone cacophony, ensuring at least that the audience was awake. There was also an interesting outbreak of an oompah-band in the Variations movement. Christine Schäfer provided vocals as required. In Lulu's song I did feel that she was a bit drowned out by the orchestra, though I don't know whether that is the desired effect. She was clearer in the stormy closing Adagio.
The second half of the concert was Mahler's Symphony No 4, a work with which I am more familiar. Whilst there was nothing wrong with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's playing, I did find Daniele Gatti's selection of tempi curious and dissatisfying: speeding up considerably in certain sections of the opening movement (Nicht eilen - unhurried), only to pause for an eternity later on. I also observed this phenomenon to a lesser extent in the second movement, but thankfully it tailed off in the third and fourth movements. It's always interesting to see the instrumental selections that Mahler makes: in the fourth symphony, several sections are marked by the sound of sleigh bells; in the second movement, the leader was frantically swapping between two violins, one tuned down a semitone for a more 'folksy' sound as in Mahler's instructions. In the finale, Schäfer once again sang sublimely with the curious Das himmlische Leben from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
The real reason that led to this Prom selection, however, was the late night Prom 45, featuring works mainly by Arvo Pärt, with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, conductor Paul Hillier and organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent. The Albert Hall works particularly well when the music can be interpreted theatrically, and the concert began with a quasi-liturgical procession of the singers into the hall to an anonymous Te Deum. Pérotin's Sederunt principes was interesting, though perhaps rather longer than expected. It seems that whilst in Baroque opera the singers often repeat the same line several times, in twelfth-century part-writing they repeat the same syllable several times.
Of the pieces performed, Pärt's Trivium for Organ solo was the only work I recognised specifically; but I particularly liked the Salve regina for choir and organ, and the paradoxical jollity of the Dopo la vittoria, in which the lyrics of certain sections beautifully sung in canon state "this song has been repeated on the occasion of solemn ceremonies of thanksgiving". It was, for both its levity and its thanksgiving, an appropriate conclusion to a concert to celebrate Pärt's 70th birthday.