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First knight of the Proms

Royal Albert Hall
07/14/2000 -  
Aaron Copland Fanfare for the Common Man, Johann Sebastian Bach, orch. Stokowski Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Sergey Rakhmaninov, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Leos Janacek Glagolitic Mass
Evgeny Kissin (piano), Christine Brewer (soprano), Louse Winter (mezzo), David Kuebler (tenor), Nikolai Putilin (bass), Simon Presto (organ)
BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestera
Andrew Davis (conductor)

The first night of the Proms by a fairly recent convention consists of a Big Choral Work. But -- perhaps because there are a large number of religious choral works later in the season, or perhaps because last year's stunning performance of Tippett's The triumph of time was so poorly attended -- this year's first night returned to the older tradition of the Proms summer pops, with the short-and-popular Fanfare, for Copland's centenary, Stokie's Toccata arrangement, as in Fantasia, just about for the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, and Kissin performing Rach 2, the ultimate in lower-middle-to-upper-middle-brow. The second half of the programme, though, paid a graceful tribute to Andrew Davis in his last season as conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra by including the first work he ever conducted with the orchestra, the Glagolitic Mass.

The Fanfare had its rough moments, but was an uplifting start to the season. The Toccata and Fugue somehow lacked Lutheran intensity, perhaps simply because an orchestra has to play it with tidy complexity (like a Disney image) when an organist's performance can be rough-edged and organic (Van Gogh maybe, or Francis Bacon). Kissin and Rakhmaninov were cheered to the mushrooms, inevitably, by an audience who seemed to have come mainly for them.

You could say that there is a touch of the Disneyesque in  Janacek's description of the Glagolitic Mass as a "forest in a cathedral". But it is not so much an attempt to make conventional religion into a fairy tale as an evocation of the ancient and visceral in religion in a conventional liturgical structure. The fake "primitive ritual" of the Rite of spring suited Disney much better. Davis was truly at home in the Glagolitic Mass, and got stirring music from all the performers. The soprano Christine Brewer was forceful and untiring in a killer part, and the other singers and the chorus made fine contributions to an ensemble performance. Nikolai Putilin, alone of the soloists, seems to have beaten the echo in most parts of the hall.

H.E. Elsom



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