Classical: 1,000 years of Auntie
Wednesday 21 July 1999
THOUGH A dubious term, "showcasing" exactly described Sunday's events at the Royal Albert Hall. On display were 1,000 years of music, selectively packaged for a synoptic view of where we are now and how we got here. The day's programme as a whole, running from afternoon to late evening, was a godsend, one imagines, for schools that still take classical music seriously: coach parties doubtless made up a goodly part of the audience. The real shop-window, however, was for the BBC, whose manifold skills the Proms supremo Nicholas Kenyon ably martialled in its time-honoured purpose to educate and inform. Nobody does this better than the Corporation, and on display, too, was a sizeable portion of British musical talent: the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Hilliard Ensemble, the Musicians of the Globe and the Academy of Ancient Music; plus in the final concert, to cap it all with a proper gesture to the country that christened us the "land without music", the London Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Kurt Masur.
There were some obvious omissions, justified by the slant of this year's themes of late works, and of mankind's creative journey through the millennium. Thus we had excerpts from Handel's last oratorio, The Triumph of Time and Truth, jubilantly sung by the Academy of Ancient Music Chorus directed by Paul Goodwin, but nothing by Bach.
Another Proms topic, astrology, meant the presence of Holst's The Planets, vibrantly directed by Sir Andrew Davis, plus some thrilling medieval dance- songs on the subject, performed in a blaze of dulcimers and hurdy-gurdies by Philip Pickett's New London consort. Yet no Stravinsky. To compensate, Schoenberg's rarely heard Genesis Prelude began the afternoon, cunningly dovetailed back through 150 years of musical development to Haydn's "Representation of Chaos" from The Creation.
The visionary moment of John Tavener's Eternity's Sunrise was matched by the literal depiction of an ancient sunrise in Prokofiev's Scythian Suite; a painterly subject, the dawning of the day, but one to which composers seem set to return for as long as audiences can thrill to a crescendo.
A semi-staged version of the final opera, Les Boreades, by Jean-Philippe Rameau, restored a Gallic presence on Monday. Trained up, no doubt, by exposure to Handel operas, the audience clearly relished this monument to baroque theatrical convention. Sir Simon Rattle directed a starry cast led by soprano Barbara Bonney. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment faithfully released the protean energy locked in a rich succession of Rameau arias, recitatives and set-pieces: symphonies and divertissements, gavottes, a contredanse and a delightful air un peu gai.
`Les Boreades' will be re-broadcast on Radio 3 Thursday 2pm
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