Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations was a shameless choice - a sure tear-jerker. After Bruckner's shattering assertions in C major, its wistful touch certainly worked on the glands, and it was fine to hear the gorgeous Chicago strings released at last from bullying brass. The trouble was that Elgar's feelings started to swell and then suddenly came to a stop, for none of the Enigma Variations is really extractable. Next time, Barenboim might beef that ending up a bit, say, with a timpani roll and a couple of harps.
Still, this star-turn lived up to expectations. People who like games and competitions call Bruckner's Eighth Symphony his greatest, probably because it's his most confidently assertive, and very long. Not too long, though in the Haas edition of Bruckner's revised version, which was played here, the finale seems unbalanced - even, possibly, too short.
You might expect Barenboim to have stressed the music's triumphalist aspect. He didn't. True, the brass made a magnificent roar - American players tend to sound more forthright and beefy than British anyway - though, personally, I regret Bruckner's replacement of half the horns with the inferior-sounding Wagner tubas in his revision.
Responding to Barenboim's sweeping beat, the scherzo felt swift, without contravening Bruckner's restraining moderato, and the little woodwind punctations, which can sometimes sound impertinent, were restrained. There was a good, fruity oboe sound from the principal, without the yowl that plagues many players. And quite slow, contralto-ish vibrato from the strings in the slow movement.
We're all rude about the Albert Hall, but at least it gives this kind of music space and bloom - in Bruckner, one wouldn't mind a few of the echoes back.
Last Night of the Proms will be reviewed by Robert Cowan in Monday's paperReuse content