MUSIC / Proms: Lost in space: Anthony Payne on the music vs the Royal Albert Hall

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Returning to the Albert Hall for this year's Proms after a year of experiencing music in less individualistic acoustic spaces brought with it the usual adjustment problems and expressive revelations. On Sunday, for instance, there was no doubt that Ives's visionary oration for two groups of brass and four sets of bells, From the Steeples and Mountains, was stunningly at home.

With its haze of bell tone - tintinnabulations in three tonalities, a semitone apart - and its increasingly dissonant two-part brass invention, it is a work one could imagine being performed in some mountain fastnessand the hall's alfresco acoustic provided just such a landscape. Michael Tilson Thomas and members of the London Symphony Orchestra projected the piece with exalted intensity. As the final jubilant and clamorous sonorities evaporated, metaphysical overtones of extraordinary complexity were left to linger in the mind.

This suggestive power is just what is missing in Copland's Third Symphony, which followed in an equally robust and enthusiastic performance. It, too, is suited to the hall's open-air sound, and the famous closing fanfares resonated majestically, but for all its seriousness of intent and full-hearted rhetoric, the symphony somehow remains plain and earthbound, lacking the electricity of the composer's famous ballets.

Earlier there had been a brisk and brilliantly coloured performance of Berlioz's overture Roman Carnival and a slightly uneven interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1, in which Barry Douglas captured something of the work's majesty, elegance and fantasy, but elsewhere fell into heavy rhetoric and a rather stiff articulation of phrase.

On Monday, Andrew Davis conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a programme of English music that seemed tailor-made for the hall, but which did not always yield its secrets. Holst's The Hymn of Jesus, with its off-stage chorus, freely aligned rhythms and visionary import, was launched with stately splendour. The Trinity College Chamber Choir echoed magically around the hall's upper reaches, and the first great choral challenge rang out gloriously, filling mind and space. Later, however, some vital musical images failed to tell, and the pounding drum and mystic fanfares of the final 'Vexilla regis' were disappointingly pale.

Earlier, Delius's A Song of Summer had hung exquisitely suspended in quieter moments, although texture blurred as the chromatic flux speeded up, while Elgar's Enigma Variations lost a deal of its extraordinary colouristic detail, yet still achieved a full-blooded impact. We also heard a haunting performance of Britten's Violin Concerto, with Ida Haendel alive to its poetic shadows and brilliant virtuosity.

Comments