Wednesday, September 8, 2021, Royal Albert Hall, London
Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30 p.m.
Made up entirely of versatile freelance musicians (so badly affected work-wise during the many months of Covid restrictions), the debut of the Proms Festival Orchestra was signalled by Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Mark Wigglesworth, avoiding the rhetoric and rapidity of certain Russian conductors (such as Svetlanov and Temirkanov), drawing excellent and enthusiastic playing of joyous music.
A confident trumpet solo launched Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, sober and dark/emotionally raging in the first movement – attacca – stormy and uneasy in the second. Throughout the performance, Wigglesworth avoided sensationalism, focussing on length, line, dynamics and detailing – musical values – but the work wasn’t dull or underplayed, or, conversely, the most involving or thrilling account ever, despite the conductor’s admirably wholesome approach. There was though a palpable ‘special occasion’ stamp.
The dances of the pivotal third movement (the Symphony’s Part Two) had the right amount of impetus and point, contrasted with generous reflection, the horn solos expressively rounded, with detours, whether macabre or flaring, made all-belonging (albeit maybe they should be more disjunct).
Part Three is the strings-and-harp Adagietto – flowing here (just over eight minutes), chaste and refined, if charting inexorably to a passionate climax (if a bit thin-sounding) – and the Rondo-Finale, carefree and perky from Wigglesworth (light at the end of the tunnel), the players negotiating Mahler’s elaborate counterpoint with aplomb. The return of the second-movement chorale resounded and the victorious coda strutted home with celebratory release.