qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Prom 50

The opening music, and the main reason for selecting this Prom, was the Overture and Venusberg Music from Wagner's Tannhäuser. Unfortunately, from the front row of the arena, the opening section did not really live up to expectation. The overture developed as a musical form because well-bred people have the concept of "fashionably late", and so this was originally (well before Wagner's time) filler for the less well-bred who had the indecency to be punctual, whilst those who observed the social niceties didn't miss any of the plot. However, these days the orchestra is expected somehow to have already warmed-up before taking to the platform. The well-known fanfare should really knock you over (Wagner marked it fortissimo, and he wasn't one for understatement), and on this occasion, it didn't. Either the orchestra was a trombone short or the trombone section needs to exercise its respiratory system more vigorously. A few minutes later the orchestra had built its strength and demonstrated it was up to the task, and the remainder of the piece was polished off with gusto. In the midst of the overture there is a short passage reminiscent of "doh-ray-me" from the Sound of Music; I'm sure Wagner never thought of any of his work as "music to escape the Nazis by".

I overheard various Prommers commenting on the relatively short queue (in the end the arena was full enough, but not packed), and that this was due to "the Berg" putting people off. I have to admit, I wasn't particularly looking forward to his Seven Early Songs, but I was pleasantly surprised. Certainly anyone who likes Mahler's songs would feel at home, only occasionaly did the music stray far from tonality. Soprano Christine Brewer (a lady who clearly has a well-developed diaphragm) weaved her way swiftly and enjoyably through the set.

For the second half, we had Brahms' Symphony No 1. It is often written that Brahms was so in awe of Beethoven and afraid of comparison that for a long time he shied away from symphonic works altogether, and this piece in particular was spoken of at the time as "Beethoven's 10th". There are sections where this comparison perhaps holds water - particularly the modulation towards the climax of the first movement, and the soothing slow movement, but these aside, and the fact that the symphony is in the "Beethovenian" key of C Minor, the comparisons to J S Bach are much more striking to me. The work is reminiscent of Bach's dramatic organ writing, from the opening chromaticism, through to the detailed staccato passages, the canons, and the mathematical structuring. The passion in Brahms' first symphony is more intellectual than romantic, and conductor Mark Wigglesworth was certainly passionate in his direction of the orchestra on this occasion. Despite a momentary lack of confidence in the French Horns the performance was both accurate and accomplished, and appreciated as such by the audience.
Tags: music
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