Monday 5 September 2005

Last Prom

We went to our final Prom of the season on Saturday, an orchestra of students from the Royal Academy of Music and from the Julliard School, conducted by Sir Colin Davis. The programme opened with a thrilling performance of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, then went on to Vaughan Williams's Sixth Symphony. The 1st 3 movements worked very well, and I could hardly fault the orchestra or Davis's direction, but was not so certain about the final movement. The symphony was written in the 1940's and the final movement, which is played pianissimo throughout, is commonly held to refer to Hiroshima though the composer always denied this. The student players were technically in command and played beautifully, but never seemed to quite plumb the depths, or perhaps Davis's direction was too laid back. It can't have helped that the audience were constantly coughing, almost as if people wanted to sabotage the performance.

We were sitting at the top of the circle in a very full Royal Albert Hall; I'm not really sure why this particular Prom was so popular. But as the concert progressed, the heat became intolerable and I found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. Whatever else they have done whilst renovating the Hall in recent years, they have not introduced cooling to the upper reaches. So, for the first 3 movements of Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique I could only intermittently enjoy the performance, but in the last 2 movements the students relished the more outrageous of Berlioz's demands and the performance seemed to take off, or perhaps just my interest in it.

The orchestra had a huge string section, which sounded brilliant, but I was slightly worried about balance; something that I have felt in other Colin Davis performances. When strings were playing full pelt the completely dominated the woodwind, and I am not sure that either Berlioz or RVW would have wanted this.

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