Monday, 4 August 2008

Nil nisi bonum . . .

I know, I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but why did we have to listen to two of Henry Wood’s own pieces in Prom 24? He is dead and buried, and I thought his ‘re-arrangement’ of the Bach Toccato and Fugue in D minor had been too. Certainly, the BBC Scottish did a commendable job of pretending to be the Albert Hall organ, but I would have far rather heard it on that.

And the orchestration of Rachmaninov’s Prelude certainly belonged somewhere amongst the gloomier overgrown and forgotten mausoleums of Kensal Green Cemetery. It is a very heavy, ‘muggy’ arrangement. Unless, of course, Stefan Solyom and the BBCSSO had been affected by the muggy weather we’ve had here in London the last few days, and were oppressed by the threatening grey clouds that appeared by the interval.

I don’t want to sound too ungrateful, but we are grateful for HW’s institution, and we have celebrated its, and his, hundredths, before now, so I can only assume the Proms planners were relying on a rather tenuous linkage between him and Ethel Smyth as an excuse for some rather sloppy and questionable programming. We had far too much of that last year. Perhaps it was a leftover?

Mercifully, it was the Smyth Horn and Violin Concerto that made the programme memorable, with brilliant playing from Tasmin Little that I’ll be writing much more about shortly, I hope. I would have loved more, instead of the also rather heavy and muggy Rachmaninov 2.

The BBCSSO textures were too heavily Wood-influenced in the first movement, and it was obvious throughout the first and fourth movements that they, or Solyom, cannot do ‘lush’ and ‘rich’ which is what I assume they were aiming for. The second was lighter and tauter, and there were pleasant lighter lyrical touches in the third, let down by some leisurely patches that were too near somnambulance for my liking. Despite a suddenly vigorous conclusion, it was one of those Rachmaninov performances where the listener mentally reaches the end a good ten minutes before the orchestra does.

Note to planners: Proms audiences don't really need 'sweeties' to sugar the hour and a half around an unknown, or scarcely known piece. Or are you thinking a little too much of the international audience on the internet now?

Before anyone says anything, I can see I have poppy petals all over my jeans, and I won't forget to shake the seeds out of my trainers . . .But if you prefer indiscriminate gushing enthusiasm in all your reviews, you could desert me and go here . . .

(R3 Relay) Prom 24 Bach, orch. Henry Wood: Toccata and Fugue in D minor; Rachmaninov, orch. Henry Wood: Prelude in C sharp minor; Rachmaninov (orch. Rachmaninov): Symphony No 2 in E minor

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