Arts: Proms: A funny way to paper the house

BBC NATIONAL ORCHESTRA OF WALES/BIRMINGHAM CONTEMPORARY MUSIC GROUP ROYAL ALBERT HALL
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The Independent Culture
A PARTICULARLY hot and sticky night in the Albert Hall on Monday saw two Proms: an early-evening orchestral programme by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Tadaaki Otaka, and a late-night concert by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group under Sir Simon Rattle.

While the promenaders are famed for their attentive listening, some in the posher parts of the hall do not just rattle their jewellery during the music, but their drinks glasses and bottles too. Whether it was one of these idiots or not, something disrupted the early stages of the opening performance of Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, causing audible counting from Otaka to keep the orchestra in time.

The programme - an attempt to respond to the season's "Musical magic and mystery" theme - was decidedly odd, lassoing two Late Romantic warhorses around a recent work by Sofia Gubaidulina and some rare Szymanowski. The Dukas and Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra were played with relish, but the tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt lacked the power to put across the perfumed excesses of Szymanowski's Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin, with the heat causing intonation problems for players as well as singer.

Gubaidulina's And: the feasting at its height..., receiving its British premiere, is an almost-30-minute cello concerto of sorts. The solo part was written for David Geringas, who gave an impassioned account of its melismas, swoopings and twitterings. Responding to a vision of the Last Judgement by the Chuvash poet Gennady Aigi, Gubaidulina has come up with music of greater energy and direction than usual, though the powerful eruptions of the work's two big climaxes are prepared, perhaps too protractedly, by meditations in which the solo cello alternates with punctuating percussion, slithering orchestral chromaticisms and trilling string glissandi, all familiar from the composer's earlier scores. This may not be Gubaidulina's most powerful statement, but it is an interesting extension of her often compelling manner.

The performance of Oliver Knussen's now seminal Coursing, which began Rattle's concert, was interrupted by showers of leaflets descending on the audience and a noise like a fire alarm which was so disruptive that it was a wonder the concert carried on. The leaflets contained some vituperative and personally offensive stuff suggesting that the British new-music scene was in the hands of a corrupt cabal; though uncredited, some considered that they signalled the return of the infamous Hecklers.

Rattle insisted on playing Coursing again, after which four further pieces provided a highly effective showcase for these performers' efforts over the years. You do not have to sympathise with the leafleters, however, to feel that the focus on familiar London composers could have been complemented by at least one work by a Birmingham-based composer.

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