MUSIC / THE PROMS: The naked truth: Edward Seckerson on a weekend of musical revelations from young and old at the Royal Albert Hall (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Culture
CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 11 AUGUST 1993) APPENDED TO THIS ARTICLE

No 'Dance of the Seven Veils', so at Saturday's Prom Maria Ewing's Salome was dressed - albeit scantily - to kill. As Strauss's Death and Transfiguration floated heavenward - the mortal struggle lost and won, string and wind chordings sensitively placed for maximum afterglow - it was down, down into the gaping black hole of her terrible Liebestod. Rumbling organ pedal and bass drums underpinned the non-appearance of the Baptist's head, but Ewing's lustful panting in the moments prior was more graphic than any reality.

Ewing is the most febrile (and dangerous) of stage animals: mind and body are in constant overdrive, she uses text and language like electric shock treatment, even if that entails bending the musical line to her own expressive ends. The queasy Ewing portamento is a very mixed blessing: in this piece you have to be really careful about over- gilding the chromatic swooping and swooning.

Nor was the top of the voice free or focused enough for this outsize hall; many of the big ecstatic moments were squeezed out on a kind of keening crescendo. From my seat in the stalls, much of her most accomplished singing was being swallowed in the orchestral wash. This was one occasion where the only place to be was at the front of the promenade, to feel the chill of the words 'the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death' (sliding to the lowest reach of her voice), to smell the breath of her desire after the unspeakable kiss.

Mark Wigglesworth and the BBC Symphony reconciled the beauty and bestiality, lending the requisite sheen to Strauss's sensuous and lascivious orchestrations. Later, in Shostakovich's Symphony No 5, there were frozen pianissimi of quite extraordinary concentration. Wigglesworth took courage here in an exceptional breadth of utterance, his extreme patience in surveying Shostakovich's empty wastes dramatically offset by the impatience of his jaundiced marches. The heart of the matter lay dormant in static woodwind plaints (memorable oboe and flute solos), the hollow triumph of the end the more unsettling for ripping in tempo through the bass drum-reinforced final measures.

The term 'generation gap' took on a whole new meaning when octogenarian Shura Cherkassky met the National Youth Orchestra on Sunday. Initially they were his audience, quietly absorbed in a highly personalised private view of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Cherkassky is still a marvel. The dropped stitches are many, the rubato wildly eccentric and each hand appears to enjoy a completely independent existence.

Odd and surprising voicings reflect his wily personality while throwing new light on familiar phrases, and he can still hold us in thrall with his rarified pianissimi: 'The Old Castle' was never more remote. But only Matthias Bamert will know what a devil he must have been to accompany in Gershwin's Concerto in F. Persuading some 100 youngsters to dance to the same quirky syncopations had its hazards, despite glimpses of luxuriance and a smooth young trumpeter who already knows how to bend the blues.

CORRECTION

The following paragraph was inadvertently omitted from Edward Seckerson's review of the National Youth Orchestra's Sunday night Prom in yesterday's paper:

But the most heartening exhibition of the evening was Gawain's Journey. Harrison Birtwistle's orchestral synthesis of his opera Gawain threw down a mighty challenge for the NYO. They took it up with fearless relish for the wizardry of the orchestration, the convulsive energy, the graphic portraiture of pounding hooves, and the clash of cold steel. The Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures was a pastel by comparison. Reeds were a little tired, the harmonic series was playing tricks on the first horn. Still, there's something about making that descent into the 'Catacombs' and then re-emerging into the blazing light of 'The Great Gate of Kiev' when you've got seven trombones, four tubas, six trumpets and 10 horns. Top that.

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