Classical: Sparkle and gloom
PROMS 9-12 ROYAL ALBERT HALL/RADIO 3 LONDON
Monday 26 July 1999
In the middle of the programme, the mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby was a warm and voluptuous soloist in Ravel's exquisite triptych Sheherazade, setting poems of languorous decadence against an iridescent orchestral panoply, which shimmered irresistibly in the Albert Hall's cavernous acoustic.
The hall was packed for Friday's programme, dominated by Russian gloom. Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 3 lit up the middle in a beautifully turned performance by Imogen Cooper. Her tone was moist yet limpid, her address spirited but clean. From my seat in the left-hand stalls it was hard to hear the substance of the string textures in the first movement, while woodwind solos stuck out a mile, but that's not to blame the London Philharmonic or the conductor Mark Elder.
Rachmaninov's cantata Spring made a distinctly crepuscular and melancholy impression, considering its subject is about the reawakening of life, though its morbid poem speaks of betrayal and murderous thoughts on the part of the baritone soloist Garry Magee on very good form. For all their large numbers, the London Philharmonic Choir and London Choral Society made a rather small sound and the audience appeared to be underwhelmed.
Yet they clapped heartily enough after Shostakovich's unendurable Tenth Symphony (was it relief?) - desperate music, this, with its dour, interminable first movement (25 minutes long), its dum-diddle scherzo like a brainless forced march, and its trite upbeat ending.
The first half of Saturday's Mozart-Haydn Prom given by Collegium Musicum 90 under Richard Hickox was blighted by a run-of-the-mill performance of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony. The Minuet was bouncy, but all the other movements were at stodgy tempi and lacked intensity. The soprano Nancy Argenta sang "Exsultate jubilate" brightly enough, though, and returned in a robust performance of Haydn's "Nelson" Mass after the interval. Haydn rose above the troubled times of the work's Latin title (Missa in angustiis) in a spirit of joyous defiance, and as in all Viennese Classical Masses, musical elan tosses the words aloft as if they bore little weight. At least Haydn's unshakeable optimism swept away the doldrums.
Thursday's, Friday's and Saturday's Proms will be rebroadcast on Radio 3 at 2pm today, tomorrow and Wednesday respectively. www.bbc.co.uk/proms
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