MUSIC / Proms: BBC Welsh SO / Hickox - Royal Albert Hall

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Once upon a time, new music was the bitter pill to swallow before the main course, but for this Prom the audience grappled with Beethoven before arriving at the sweet certainties of John Tavener's We Shall See Him As He Is. This year Tavener is every music festival's sine qua non: is the originality waning, or is originality the wrong concept? As the opening cello phrases struggled to emerge from the Albert Hall silence, this felt like Return of the Protecting Veil. Richard Hickox kept the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra on course throughout a piece which at every instant threatened to lose momentum. As ever, banks of strings provide a shimmering surface, punctured by clangorous trumpet fanfares, swelling organ, thumping percussion and massed choral interjections. Of three vocal soloists, John Mark Ainsley had most work, his classical technique contorting to accommodate Levantine microtones and elaborate melismas - a fine performance. The piece lasted an hour. It could have been five minutes or five hours, since the original idea - devotion - is the only idea. I refuse to share Tavener's humility before the divine, but then his music has its own hubris as it repeatedly tries to outdo nature's beauty. Critics and composers, addicted to complexity, throw up their arms in dismay while Tavener cowers in serenity, his cocoon of faith rendering him immune to criticism.