Prom 1: Terfel/BBCSO and Chorus / Gardner / Elder / Norrington / Brabbins, Royal Albert Hall, London
This flatulent farrago is no way to begin the Olympic Proms
Sunday 15 July 2012
The opening Prom is always goods-in-the-window time, and Mark-Anthony Turnage was not backward in coming forward with his. Subtitled ‘Fanfare for BBC Music Magazine’s 20th Birthday’, his ‘Canon Fever’ would deploy games with the canon technique, taking a theme and multiplying it, turning it upside down, and inside out.
The funny thing was that, as performed by a posse of horns, trumpets, trombones, tuba, and percussion - and brightly off-key like one of Hindemith’s joke pieces for village band - its chugging pulse allowed none of this subtlety to be discernible to the innocent ear. It came and went like a puff of wind, and at three minutes lasted just long enough for us to register that it was conducted by Edward Gardner.
This being Olympic year, four different British conductors were to pass the baton in this evening of resolutely British fare. Next up was Roger Norrington with Elgar’s ‘Overture “Cockaigne” (In London Town)’. If my heart sank at the prospect of this hackneyed piece of populism, it rose at what Norrington and the BBC Symphony Orchestra did with it: instead of the usual jaunty banality we got Viennese elegance, thanks to gentle tempi and the lovingly-rendered textures of strings and woodwind.
This being Frederick Delius’s 150th , we are due for a repeated dunking in his music - which I take as a threat rather than a promise - and with Mark Elder on the podium we got his ‘Sea Drift’, a tear-drenched oratorio on a poem by Walt Whitman for baritone (the new slim-line Bryn Terfel), chorus, and orchestra. Whitman’s verse has a haunting tentativeness, but Delius’s word-setting is both clumsy and oddly unmelodic: although Terfel called on every ounce of his considerable artistry, not even he could bring this turgid piece to life.
Next up was Martin Brabbins with Tippett’s ‘Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles’: with its pleasingly intricate games with Irish jigs and medieval carols, this made a charming relief. But we ended with Gardner back on the podium for Elgar’s ‘Coronation Ode’, a display of cod-Beethoven and imperial oompah delivered with four brilliant English soloists, who deserved something better than the tune of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ which this flatulent farrago sent its audience out on. Enough already.
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