Nice period instruments, shame about the conductor, says Robert Cowan

music Centenary Prom, London
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Thursday's Centenary Prom revisited repertory performed 100 years ago to the day. Not that it risked a note-for-note replication of the original programme, but we did get some of the musical "meat" in Wagner's Rienzi overture and a suite from Carmen. The New Queen's Hall Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth paraded an impressive line-up of vintage instruments (Rudall, Carte & Co flutes, a Louis oboe, Martel-Hawkes clarinets, Dresden pedal timpani, etc) and of course the strings donned their celebrated "pre-war" portamenti, rounding off the edges of Rienzi's big tune and bolstering the calorie-count of Elgar's already sugar-coated Salut d'amour. Vocals were supplied by baritone Donald Maxwell announcing, via Tonio's Prologue to Pagliacci, that "our author wishes to revive some of the old customs..." - an oddly appropriate phrase in the context, and very characterfully sung. Even better was a larger-than-life "Largo al factotum", initiated from the wings then thrust into the limelight as Maxwell bounded on stage through the orchestra. Come the encores, and a repeat performance was inevitable.

The rest was a varied feast. Rienzi opened with a shaky trumpet that soon gained in confidence but, overall, it was a run-of-the-mill (or should I say "end-of-the-pier") performance: boisterous, yes, but terribly bland. The temperature rose somewhat as Howard Shelley tore into Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No 1 on an old Chappell grand that kept its tone mostly to itself but blended well with the orchestra. Wordsworth conducted a creditable accompaniment, although some of the slides (specifically those from the middle strings) were overdone. Then came Thomas's delightful Mignon overture, a one-time repertory mainstay, packed with good tunes and potentially felicitous solos but deadly dull under Wordsworth - except for the final statement of the Polonaise, which suddenly sprang to life.

Schubert's Unfinished originally featured in a programme a week or so after Henry Wood's first Prom, so its inclusion here was fairly authentic. Wordsworth offered a trim, nicely shaped reading, one that seemed more akin to the period-instrument school than to "Proms past" and that lacked the conspicuous horn vibrato we'd heard in Wagner and Thomas. Wordsworth ended the official programme with a routinely assertive Carmen suite, before bowing to audience pressure with Salut d'amour and Berlioz's Hungarian March.

Audience reaction was ecstatic, but I could hear nothing beyond a pleasantly homogeneous band and fairly routine conducting. The stylistic flash-backs are interesting, but hardly compensate for a lack of true style - the sort that Sir Henry Wood himself provided in abundance. Let us not forget that the founder of the Proms conducted more modern music than most of his peers had even heard - quite a tribute, and far more worthy of imitation than the odd redundant slide.

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