Royal Festival Hall, London
The significance of Wednesday's Charity Gala in memory of Princess Diana was so various, I was thoroughly confused. It was in joint aid of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and the Royal Academy of Music (now 175 years old), of which Diana was President. As Patron of both, the Queen was there. But part, at least, of the musical point was to showcase two Stradivari instruments in the Academy's collection. In Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, Maxim Vengerov played the "Habeneck" violin of circa 1734, while Yuri Bashmet played the "Archinto" viola of 1696. Both were brave to use instruments they're not used to, and which, probably, are not much played. Bashmet seemed to have got the better deal, and made a sound that was not only lovely but large. Vengerov is possibly the most glittering violinist of our day, yet I can't help suspecting he might have been happier with his usual fiddle. Perhaps Stradivari had lost his touch by the age of 91, for the tone of this violin seemed thin and small. Not that Vengerov failed to play well, drifting like a dream through the slow movement and tossing off his final sally in the finale so brilliantly and dead in tune that he got a knowing smile of appreciation from his partner, as much as to say "That's my boy!"
Sir Colin Davis, in especially dignified mood, kept the Academy's excellent Sinfonia so soft and light that nothing detracted from the two stars.
Sitting just in front of me, Cherie Blair read the programme notes, written by an Academy student, diligently - before, not during, the music. Others did not bother, so missed the request to refrain from applauding at the end of Mozart's Requiem. This caused a good deal of farcical confusion. Still, there was a decent interval of silence before one brave soul broke out clapping. The performance was certainly worth applauding. Lynne Dawson, Jean Rigby, John Mark Ainsley and Gerald Finley made an attractive solo quartet: Dawson warm and tremulous; Rigby luscious; Ainsley sweet yet incisive; Finley solid, if a little short on bass weight. Yet one of the greatest joys was the firmly focused tone of the Academy's 90-strong chorus: in the "Dies Irae" and "Rex tremendae" they were thrilling. And in the "Tuba mirum" the trombone soloist covered himself in glory.