Friday, 4 August 2000

Prom concert review

Listening to:

Schubert, Octet in F, D803.

A promming we will go

I went to my first Prom of the year on Wednesday night. The first piece was Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546. This was played on the organ. It was a little strange to be listening to solo music in the Royal Albert Hall. I was in the central arena, “promming”, and most of the people around me were standing, but I couldn’t see much point in standing to watch the distant organist's back. Great music, this. Not necessarily an easy listen; it would be easy to turn off and just wonder at the noise, but a little bit of application allows you to hear the different lines and appreciate just what’s going on.

Next up was Mothers shall not cry by Johnathan Harvey, a world premiere (and BBC commission) with the composer in attendance. I didn’t think much of this. It was trying all too hard to be symbolic, relied on visual cues that were just naff (sword-wielding warrior with bandages on his eyes blessed by bejewelled princess; sheesh), and wasn’t musically coherent. There were lots of interesting musical effects (use of speakers and various electronic effects around the hall included), but nothing really flowed.

I disliked the programming as well; after this 21st century stuff, we had to then throw ourselves back in time to the 19th century to hear Brahms’s double concerto for violin and cello. This was music I knew quite well. I don’t think it’s Brahms's best ever composition, but there were moments in the first and third movements of typical and thrilling Brahmsian intensity; strings rapidly flowing over pulsing rhythms sustained by deep pedal points. I much prefer this to Bruckner’s “loud” passages, which seem too dependent on brass fanfares. I remember one moment of real, rapt beauty from the slow second movement too.

Finally, the concert finished with another Bach prelude and fugue (in E flat, “St. Anne”), but orchestrated by Schoenberg. It was strange hearing familiar music in this unusual setting. Initially, I couldn’t help but smile as the orchestra was doing such neato things. By the time it finished, I was less convinced that the orchestral colour was doing much for the music.

Three professional reviews of the same concert: from the Times, the Telegraph, and the Independent.