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Prom 53: Connolly, Gregory, Tappan, BBCSO & Chorus, Davis review - citizens of the world unite | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 53: Connolly, Gregory, Tappan, BBCSO & Chorus, Davis review - citizens of the world unite

Prom 53: Connolly, Gregory, Tappan, BBCSO & Chorus, Davis review - citizens of the world unite

Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Hugh Wood transcend national boundaries

Welcome back to Sarah Connolly with Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony OrchestraAll images BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Let's be clear: this was a Prom of world-class works by English composers, not a conservative concert of English music. Politically speaking, Elgar was one of the few on the right, but how different inwardly, speaking through the poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy and singing with his own reminiscences in The Music Makers of timeless art that outlives the fall of empires and individual fates. How moving it was, then, to welcome back Dame Sarah Connolly after her very public statement about her recent operation for breast cancer. The most passionate of Remainers, she might have worn a more pronounced blue and yellow dress had there been anything parochial to apologise for; but there wasn't, either in the music or its execution under Sir Andrew Davis.

“Unearthly, impossible seeming,” as O’Shaughnessy puts it of inspiration, would certainly be right for Vaughan Williams’s immortal Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, and the Albert Hall must be the best place of all to hear it. Stopping short of cathedral mush, its acoustics cast a halo around the string orchestra, and by locating the second ensemble of 10 players as an angel consort just below the bust of Sir Henry Wood, with a sea of red chairs between them and the rest, Davis (pictured below) set up the right magic. But it was up to him to conjure the far horizons; exquisite pianissimos were balanced with exactly the right weight and emphasis in fruitier moments, and the biggest climax had an articulation which showed a master’s touch. Exquisite solos, too, from leader Igor Yuzefovich and principal viola Norbert Blume (note the international make-up of the BBC Symphony Orchestra)Sir Andrew DavisFeet rarely touched the ground in Hugh Wood’s Scenes from Comus, either; there’s a weakness, though, when Milton’s midnight masquers “beat the ground, In a light fantastick round” at the heart of the this tone-poem with soprano and tenor, and the substance fails to match the rhythmic drive. Tippett’s Ritual Dances in A Midsummer Marriage this is not. But in nocturnal evocation, Wood is a master of aerial, ravishingly orchestrated atmosphere. First horn Martin Owen, leading the dream and reappearing close to the end, had done much the same in Britten’s Serenade at the Southrepps Festival several weeks earlier; Wood begins where Britten ends, in a far from still midnight. Poised solos from Stacey Tappan, attired as gorgeous queen of the revels, and Anthony Gregory (pictured below with Davis) didn’t always rise over the sometimes dense orchestra in the hall; no doubt balances were perfect on the radio. And there was 87-year-old Wood, over half a century on from the premiere, no doubt pleased with what he heard. Wood's Scenes from Comus at the PromsShame, though, on a tribe of his younger fellow composers of the next generation, walking away before the rhapsody of Elgar the master. It’s not as if we often get to hear this very personal meditation on the role of the creative artist in time and space. With Davis’s assured guidance, the tapestry of new ideas in The Music Makers – the first two, one wistful, the other consoling, are as fine as any the composer ever hit upon – and self-quotation was silky-seamless, nothing over-emphasised, though it’s always curious what Elgar chooses to spotlight: the light “on one man’s soul” brings a homage to closest, by then deceased, friend A J Jaeger as the “Nimrod” of the “Enigma” Variations, and is swiftly followed by the theme from the end of the Second Symphony connected with the homosexual Frank Schuster, at the lines “his look, or a word he hath spoken, Wrought flame in another man’s heart”. Such was the nature of romantic friendship in Edwardian England. Elgar's The Music Makers at the PromsThere were plenty of the essential words from the excellent BBC Symphony Chorus, and Connolly, who must have found it difficult to sit there for so long enveloped by such poignant music, had the heart of the matter, touching deepest sadness in the final lines before the refrain (“we are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams”). God, incidentally, only gets one look-in, and Empire is ephemeral. This is very personal indeed, and last night we were persuaded to buy into it. As Elgar said of the Violin Concerto – also quoted in The Music Makers – it is “awfully emotional! Too emotional. But I love it”.

With Davis's assured guidance, Elgar's tapestry of new ideas and self-quotation was silky-seamless

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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