Blowing its own trumpets

Proms 1 & 2 | Royal Albert Hall London/Radio 3
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The Independent Culture

Resplendently, to the sound of trumpets and drums, the 2000 Proms opened on Friday with Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man". First, there was distant brass music from the gallery. Then the on-stage brass of the BBC Symphony Orchestra joined in, interlocking antiphonally with their colleagues, but with a fractional time lag from the distant ensemble. The inaccuracy asserted the joy of live over recorded performance. This, after all, is what it's about: more than 70 concerts in two months in the quirky acoustic of the Albert Hall. And they will be good.

Resplendently, to the sound of trumpets and drums, the 2000 Proms opened on Friday with Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man". First, there was distant brass music from the gallery. Then the on-stage brass of the BBC Symphony Orchestra joined in, interlocking antiphonally with their colleagues, but with a fractional time lag from the distant ensemble. The inaccuracy asserted the joy of live over recorded performance. This, after all, is what it's about: more than 70 concerts in two months in the quirky acoustic of the Albert Hall. And they will be good.

There's more Copland later this season, a tonic for those who admire his work and those who fear that his star may have slipped below the horizon. More Copland, and plenty of JS Bach. Fine as it is, Leopold Stokowski's transcription of the D minor Toccata and Fugue did not quite count as a launch proper, being probably not by Bach, not originally for organ, and not from Bach's period. Yet it's a wonderful imposture to have perpetrated on the public, in whichever arrangement you prefer, and Sir Andrew Davis's reading of this Gothic monument caught the upbeat mood of the audience, ready for another antiphonal performance, the time-honoured chanting of the promenaders across the auditorium for the ritual opening of the piano lid. On this occasion it was for Evgeny Kissin, small and perfectly rehearsed, but given to a view of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto that did not raise it very far off the ground.

Janacek's Glagolitic Mass, like the Copland an "open air" work and a mass for the "common man", had the stir of more spontaneous music-making, and fittingly closed the evening. The BBC Singers and Symphony Chorus sang with absolute conviction, driven by Davis's firm command of a score he has made his own.

On Saturday, thoughts turned more seriously to Bach in the 250th anniversary year of his death. Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducted the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists in an evening devoted to the composer, the concert forming part of his ambitious plan to perform all the surviving cantatas this year, placed within the scheme of a vast liturgical cycle of "well-regulated church music" that Bach intended. On the eve of the fourth Sunday after Trinity, Cantata No 24, Ein ungefärbt Gemüte ("a mind unsullied"), was as close as could reasonably be arranged to its proper position.

Tenor Paul Agnew's aria with two oboes d'amore, "May the words of your mouth be the thoughts of your mind," sounded well on the radio, better, perhaps, than in the un-baroque resonance of the Albert Hall; and in the opening aria of Cantata No 185, Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, ("Merciful heart of eternal love"), intended by Bach for the same Sunday, he was beautifully partnered by mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena.

Radio 3 will rebroadcast Prom 2 today at 2pm

In Roderic Dunnett's review last Friday of Schütz's 'St John Passion' in York, the singer in the role of the Evangelist (praised as 'the highlight of the evening by a mile') was wrongly identified as Paul Gameson. It was in fact the baritone Tom Guthrie, to whom we send our apologies

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