Prom 68: Vienna PO/Barenboim, Royal Albert Hall, London<br/> Prom 70: Boston SO/Levine, Royal Albert Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

A mainly Hungarian programme from the Austrians spoke of Daniel Barenboim's will to make links across borders. It also showed the versatility of a great string section, although in the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Bartok the orchestra fused the music's idiom with its own traditions. All the lines in this musical tapestry sang out eloquently, even when inflected with vigorous local rhythms.

In Kodaly's Dances of Galánta, the ingenious interfolded form, an accelerating hybrid between rondo and suite, was treated with fire and elegance. The principal clarinet shone, and again in Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No 1. Atmosphères by Ligeti made a refined interlude of shifting colours. In two encores, a moment of lapsed ensemble – how can the Vienna Phil go astray in Johann Strauss? – was lost in a feast of detail, ardently expressed.

The Bostonians arrived two nights later on their first European tour with current music director James Levine. The strings were just as focused, brilliant, on occasion delicate, but their tonal palette lacked a dimension. The ensemble seems to have kept its refinement but – in La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz – to have hardened its sinews and coarsened its louder playing.

Its brass were exact but often overwhelming. So were the Tanglewood Festival Choir, softened somewhat when the Finchley Children's Music Group joined them. The defining moments came at Faust's fall into the abyss, when the impact was properly tremendous but undermined by the force of sound already heard.

The performance was at its best when intimate, and Marguerite's Romance began with a cor anglais solo of such melting sensitivity that it upstaged even Yvonne Naef's warm, stylish and idiomatic singing.

She and the fluent, ardent Faust, Marcello Giordano, were stretched by the high lines of their duet, though Giordano had the power for his spacious Invocation. José Van Dam's classic Mephistopheles, however, showed real character.

Comments