“…the last known photograph of Gustav Mahler. This moving picture, taken on 12 May 1911 at the arrival of the train that brought Mahler back to Vienna from Paris, only six days before his death…”

Wednesday 26 August 2020, BBC Radio 3 @ 7.30 p.m.

Recorded at Royal Albert Hall on 10 September 1987

Not all concerts are “great”, therefore not all Proms are either; nevertheless BBC Radio 3 has trailed (remorselessly), previewed and presented the last few weeks of Proms repeats with a very resistible, not to say irritating, amount of hype and superlatives.

That said, this one from the Vienna Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein (his belated debut at the Proms) stays in the memory for Mahler 5, which followed Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with Peter Schmidl (principal of the orchestra at the time) as soloist, perfectly good in one sense of course yet strangely uncommunicative in another – I felt this now as then. (At other Mahler 5 concerts on this tour Mozart 29 was played.)

A sense of occasion gripped this Albert Hall Mahler, but expectation placed a burden on the performance that it couldn’t quite bear this time, partly due to an excess of presentation, and, in the first movement, a disconcerting prominence given to trumpet(s), whether Bernstein’s choice or BBC engineering. No doubting though the electricity generated or the conductor’s attention to detail and his inhabiting the music, burrowing into it with the seeming spontaneity of the moment, the Scherzo for example, to belie scrupulous study and intensive rehearsal. The Adagietto (strings and harp) was of surpassing beauty, and the Finale built and built through vivid characterisation to exultation and joyous release.

Postscript: The Proms rebroadcasts for 2020 stopped short of the 1970s and going even further back. Following are but three Proms that I would love to have heard again:


This Prom included the premiere of the remarkable fifty-minute-long Domination of Black by Robin Holloway.


A simply superb, yardstick-creating Mahler 7 conducted by Pierre Boulez, who also introduced a longer version of his Rituel, possibly for its only ever outing.


A concert I was too young to appreciate (on the radio, as all of the above were) but the Vaughan Williams London Symphony, all that I heard of this Prom, nevertheless radiated that something special was happening. BTW, the Proms Archive doesn’t list that Sir Adrian Boult offered an encore that night: Eric Coates’s Dambusters March.