Prom 13: Halle/Elder
Prom 14: BBC Now/Hickox, Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 27 July 2005
On the other hand, there was a point in preceding the Tippett, the night before, with Elgar's oratorio The Dream of Gerontius in Prom 13; major 20th-century British choral works both, and equally concerned with the numinous.
As one might expect from Mark Elder, the Elgar was scrupulously and lovingly prepared, with superbly focused sound from the ranks of the Hallé Choir and Youth Choir plus the London Philharmonic, and some wonderfully hushed playing from the Hallé Orchestra strings in Elgar's more tender passages of introspection.
As Gerontius, the US tenor Paul Groves offered an object lesson in clear diction; Alice Coote sounded sumptuous as the Angel; Matthew Best forceful, if a little fuzzy, as the Priest/ Angel of the Agony. If Elder's direction missed something of the underlying anxiety and cumulative excitement of Elgar's conception, maybe it was because his approach was simply too considered.
In Prom 14, Hickox was still, to an extent, embattled in the problems of co-ordinating the mosaic structure and balancing the disparate textures of what remains Tippett's most uncompromisingly modernist score. As St Augustine, even that eloquent and powerful young baritone Roderick Williams was sometimes overwhelmed in the jaggedly soaring choral lines - the BBC Symphony Chorus in tremendous form - plus flaring fanfares and glittering percussion from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The results felt like a good read-through, failing to clinch, as yet, the visionary highpoints - but one that, in another session or two, would get there.
The Shostakovich, on the other hand, though less than perfectly drilled, sounded committed. True, certain Shostakovians could be heard muttering afterwards about "sloppiness" and arbitrary tempo changes. But listeners still exploring this piece will have got plenty out of this broadly conceived, vigorously executed performance.
These Proms can be heard online at www.bbc.co.uk/proms
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