Proms 65/67, Hamelin/Goode/BBCNOW/Steen//LSO/Davis, Royal Albert Hall (3/5, 5/5)

Michael Church
Monday 05 September 2011 10:54

Michael Berkeley’s Organ Concerto had its premiere in Ely 24 years ago, but it’s only now had its London premiere.

Why did nobody love it enough to play it in the meantime? Organist David Goode has come to the rescue, arguing that it’s a ‘significant part’ of the organ repertoire. Heralded by a bell, its opening is perfectly suited to the Proms, with three trumpeters interlacing chromatically from different parts of the auditorium, suggesting an enchanted garden of sounds.

The organ adds its voice with jabbing tone-clusters, echoing and being echoed by the orchestra: the textures are interesting, but after ten minutes you realise that textures – despite the programme’s promise of drama and passion – are all that’s on offer. But it was fastidiously played, with Goode and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Jac van Steen maintaining an impressive linkage across the space between them.

As Proms go, this was one of the less cleverly-programmed, with first half and second half having absolutely nothing to do with each other. Its centre of gravity was Rachmaninov’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’, with Marc-Andre Hamelin at the piano. Hamelin’s virtuosity was as dazzling as usual, but there was something missing: a weight and generosity in the tone, the sound of that heavy Russian nostalgia which makes this composer’s music so haunting when it’s played as it should be. But the audience gave Hamelin an ovation, as they did the evening’s other works, with the genial Edwardian banality of Elgar’s ‘Cockaigne (In London Town)’ being answered by the Gypsy breeziness of Kodaly’s ‘Hary Janos Suite’.

After witnessing the BBC Symphony Orchestra murder Beethoven’s Ninth in Prom 61, it was sweet relief to hear its companion-masterpiece, Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’, delivered by the London Symphony Orchestra - plus the London Symphony and Philharmonic choirs - under the direction of the ever-valiant Sir Colin Davis, who turns 84 this month. No praise can be too high for the soloists – Helena Juntunen, Sarah Connolly, Paul Groves, and Matthew Rose – as they negotiated the cliffs and chasms of Beethoven’s chiaroscuro landscape: functioning as a quartet rather than as four soloists, they interwove their sound with that of the orchestra and choirs to sublime effect. Gordan Nikolitch’s exquisite violin solo set the seal on this mind-blowingly wonderful performance.

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