Musical splendour on a day of mourning

Music played an important part in the funeral service of Diana, Princess of Wales. The selection was iconoclastic and movingly in tune with the occasion. By Anthony Payne

In what was the most deeply impressive and, indeed, harrowingly emotional public event any of us are likely to experience in our lifetimes, it was touching to observe the part that music played in the proceedings. The Westminster Abbey funeral service, which had been designed to reflect Princess Diana's special significance for all of us, assembled an iconoclastic sequence of pieces drawn from sources as widely contrasted as the grand, formal and traditional Purcell and Croft, 19th-century hymnody, the romantic and modern choral traditions, and contemporary pop in both hymn and song.

It was populist, but never cheap, in content, and it was the reworking of Elton John's famous "Candle in the Wind", bravely sung by its composer under great emotional stress, that captured the imagination of most of the people interviewed after the event on BBC1. This was understandable, but no less movingly in tune with the occasion were the closing sequence from Verdi's Requiem, John Tavener's Song for Athene, whose incandescent, almost Holstian climax brought the service to a majestic close, and Holst's own I vow to thee, my country, one of the Princess's favourite hymns. The music director Martin Neary deserves greatest credit for the musical splendour of the service.

Later in the day, a change of programme, which must have chimed in with the mood and feelings of music lovers everywhere on a deeply stirring day, brought Faure's Requiem to Saturday evening's promenade concert, a tender and intimate tribute to Princess Diana. The broader dramatic canvas of the final section of Verdi's Requiem had provided a fitting contribution to her funeral service, but now Faure's touching masterpiece exerted its extraordinary power to salve and transfigure.

Galvanised by the poignancy of the occasion, David Atherton, with the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus and soloists Judith Howarth and Neal Davies, drew a marvellous performance of the work. This is music whose subdued poetry is never passive, and its glowing spirituality stems from a position of creative strength. Atherton and his forces responded with that paradoxical combination of mildness and forthrightness, reticence and passion, which reveals the heart of Faure's vision. A powerful drama could quickly erupt out of lyric gentleness in the middle of the "Libera Me" and just as swiftly retire into civilised mourning. The interpretation as a whole gripped the imaginations of those many listeners who might have felt they had little more to give after the day's highly charged events.

Nor was there to be any let up after the interval, for the electrifying intensity of the young Rachmaninov's First Symphony drew playing of overwhelming onset and emotional directness. This is an astonishingly original work, and that perceptive analyst Robert Simpson made a convincing case for it being the greatest of the composer's symphonic works. Its wild unorthodoxes - a scherzo which magically opens as if it is a slow movement, an apparently triumphant final coda which turns on its axis to become a tragic calamity and a first movement of unexpected yet superbly controlled contrasts - kept us on the edge of our seats. And so did this commanding interpretation.

John Tavener's `Song for Athene' is available on the CD `Innocence' (Sony Classical SK66613)

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Arts and Entertainment
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters performs at Suncorp Stadium on February 24, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans had initially distanced himself from the possibility of taking the job

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
British author Matt Haig

books
Arts and Entertainment
Homeland star Damian Lewis is to play a British Secret Service agent in Susanna White's film adaptation of John le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor

Film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue
    E L James's book Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

    Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

    It's hard to understand why so many are buying it – but then best-selling was ever an inexact science, says DJ Taylor
    Behind the scenes of the world's most experimental science labs

    World's most experimental science labs

    The photographer Daniel Stier has spent four years gaining access to some of the world's most curious scientific experiments
    It's the stroke of champions - so why is the single-handed backhand on the way out?

    Single-handed backhand: on the way out?

    If today's young guns wish to elevate themselves to the heights of Sampras, Graf and Federer, it's time to fire up the most thrilling shot in tennis
    HMS Saracen: Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled

    HMS Saracen

    Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'

    7/7 bombings 10 years on

    Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'