MUSIC / Past perfect: Anthony Payne on a recreation of Proms long gone

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The Independent Culture
In tribute to Sir Malcolm Sargent, Wednesday's Prom recreated the programme he conducted on 25 July 1960, and under the inspirational direction of Vernon Handley, the BBC Symphony Orchestra brought a glowing presence to what was a highly characteristic mix of Strauss, Rachmaninov and English early moderns.

It was the kind of concert that had little place during Sir William Glock's era as BBC Controller of Music, or indeed for some time after, and it was good to have it resurrected. Glock's revolutionary programme-planning in the Sixties, with its concentration on new music, was much needed at the time. But an important part of our musical heritage suffered as a result, and such composers as Ireland, Lennox Berkeley and Vaughan Williams, whom a capacity crowd here welcomed with enthusiasm, were largely withheld from a whole generation of music-lovers.

Handley's mastery of this particular repertory is supreme and he brought a concentration to the orchestra's playing that focused the picturesque world of Ireland's A London Overture no less devotedly that the transcendental vision of Vaughan Williams' Fifth Symphony.

The symphony brought the concert to a fitting conclusion. Its power, which enables eternal truths to be unfolded without exaggeration and in total calm, drew playing of luminous intensity; and when, during the finale, a rainstorm cascaded on to the hall's vast dome, the distant sound seemed perfectly at one with the work's natural forces. This is music that has no place for the dramatic outbursts of the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies, yet their agonies lie beneath its spiritual radiance, sometimes staining its surface and making its calm breadth one of Vaughan Williams' bravest achievements. All of this and more was laid bare in this superb interpretation.

Another work to utter powerful truths in terms of tenderness and calm, Lennox Berkeley's Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila, elicited a similarly sensitive response. There is a perfect matching of minds in these settings of the 16th-century mystic, and Catherine Wyn- Rogers' beautiful performance revealed all the devotional intensity beneath Berkeley's civilised restraint. Her diction was meticulous and her shaping of the elegant melodic lines was perfectly matched by Handley's moulding of the string textures.

Reminding us of the generous proportions of Proms gone by, this programme ran half an hour longer than most have done in recent years, and we were also able to hear a brilliantly pointed performance of Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel, as well as a historically resonant interpretation of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto. Moura Lympany last performed this concerto at the Proms in 1951 under Sargent himself, and here she was again, a vigorous and unsentimental septuagenarian, bringing a fresh impulse to one of the most-performed works in the repertory. Hers was a splendid achievement, and she responded to the audience's understandable delight with an exquisite performance of the composer's Prelude in G major - bravo Dame Moura]

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