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Prom 18 and Prom 20, review: ‘Sometimes the Proms strike gold’

Prom 18: Connolly/Tiffin Boys’ Choir/LSO/Haitink and Prom 20: Monteverdi/NYCS/ORR/Gardiner

Michael Church
Monday 01 August 2016 13:54 BST
John Eliot Gardiner conducts Prom 20
John Eliot Gardiner conducts Prom 20 (Chris Christodoulou)

Two great works in two great performances on successive nights: sometimes the Proms strike gold. Bernard Haitink is now 87, but it was only when he ultra-cautiously negotiated the steps down from the podium that we had any intimation of his age. The way he conducted Mahler’s Third Symphony reflected timeless wisdom and flawless control: this was an event which nobody present will forget.

Mahler wanted this work to be “like the world – it must embrace everything”, and all the moments which required a particular magic got it – the martial music heralding summer, the off-stage flugelhorn heard through hushed high strings, the children’s choir at the moment of redemption, and mezzo Sarah Connolly’s lovely entry – O Mensch! Gib acht! – which seemed to rise up from the bowels of the earth. The sustained tracery of melodies in the final movement passed like a dream.

The way French-Canadian mezzo Julie Boulianne set the scene for Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet in a long and hugely demanding solo was even more remarkable: I have never heard a more ravishing vocal command of the Albert Hall’s problematic acoustic. John Eliot Gardiner deployed his forces – the Monteverdi Choir, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, plus three soloists – in a kaleidoscopically effective account of this underrated work.

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