Arts: A conga through the Albert Hall

Classical: PROMS 31 & 32 ROYAL ALBERT HALL/ RADIO 3 LONDON

TUESDAY'S PROM began with a march pretending to be a scherzo pretending to be a street dance - in ragtime, wouldn't you know - and ended with a conga through the Albert Hall arena. The American Dream, wide-awake. Charles Ives - the founding father of musical America - made the alarm- call, telling it like it was, is, has not, nor ever been.

The songs, scherzi, and "take-offs" which almost constituted the first half of this prom were like tissues of every romantic notion and cynical afterthought you've ever had about the good old US-of-A. Thomas Ades, conducting the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, juggled the marching- bands, fireside songs, wrong-note rags without dropping any balls - except on purpose. And the ridiculous was sublime, the simple truths magical. And moving. Who but Ives could drum General William Booth into Heaven (Thomas Hampson and London Voices wacking out the "Hallelujahs") and have us simultaneously chuckling and overawed?

Probably not Conlon Nancarrow - though as a chip off the Ives block, this maverick of the "player-piano" certainly hints at Ives's keyboard style, using rhythm like broken biscuits to concoct exotic confections. His Study for Orchestra (realised by Carlos Sandoval) may not have been what Ira Gershwin had in mind when he wrote the words "fascinating rhythm" (maybe that should now read "schizophrenic rhythm") but it does field one terrific joke: the spectacle of Tim Murray sitting impassively at a pre-programmed Yamaha Disklavier finally to reply to its whizz-bang figurations with a single chord.

Meanwhile, the pay-off was a cracking rendition of Leonard Bernstein's second Broadway score, Wonderful Town - the one written in five weeks when the original composer, Leroy Anderson, failed to impress the star, Rosalind Russell. This is Lenny's postscript to On the Town writ large in all the gaudiest colours from his Big Apple paintbox on a band that got hot from racing with the clock. The speed of composition is reflected in the heat of inspiration and Simon Rattle's performance, more than his recent recording, conveyed that sense of imperative - of a show being written and performed on the hoof. Besides, any conductor who can take the sigh from the vocal line of "A Little Bit in Love" (gorgeously sung by Audra McDonald) and persuade his strings to turn it into something almost indecent can't be all that bad. The sibling revelry of sisters Ruth and Eileen taking their first big bite of the "Big A" found Kim Criswell and Audra McDonald really playing up their vocal differences, like acid and alkaline. So, great band, feisty chorus (London Voices, New York attitude), and a timely reminder of two of the smartest mouths in the history of the genre - lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

Don't look directly at the sun, they said, so in Wednesday's Prom we listened directly to it. Poul Ruders's Gong - receiving a belated UK premiere - was not to be eclipsed, even partially. The awsome resonance of many gongs, the deep palpitation of the bass drum, like a solar heartbeat, a corona of high muted trumpets. The ruler of the Universe bade us dance, and we did - a throbbing, pulsating, pounding, blinding (Ruders's words) sun dance. This big and many-faceted score received a rather safe, literal performance from Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the BBC Symphony. Indeed, throughout the evening, Saraste's flabby stick technique appeared to be waving the music on instead of seizing it. You can't hope to liberate Nielsen's Third Symphony with your nose buried in the score.

Edward Seckerson

Wednesday's Prom will be rebroadcast on Radio 3 on Monday at 2pm

www.bbc.co.uk/proms

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup