Friday, August 13, 2021, Royal Albert Hall, London
Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30 p.m.
Keeping Sir Andrew Davis’s programme intact meant that Martyn Brabbins could open this Prom with the late Anthony Payne’s Spring’s Shining Wake (1980-81), which “shadows the course” (Payne) of Delius’s In a Summer Garden. Scored for wind septet, strings and a soupcon of percussion, gently chiming glockenspiel and crescendo-ing cymbal, the shimmering and refined Spring’s Shining Wake suggests a dreamlike state, quietly passionate amid restless reminiscences. Payne’s craftsmanship is impeccable for music that is poignantly expressive, its mostly quiet voice holding the attention over twenty minutes in this very sympathetic performance.
From Spring to Summer and staying there for Berlioz’s song-cycle, a night-time of varied emotions, love-related, including that which is eternal, or the loss of romantic attachment because of death or through the unrequited sort. The opening number, ‘Villanelle’, was perfectly paced in its moderation – Colin Davis-like (no higher praise is possible) – and the remaining five settings were each searched for their optimum potential, Dame Sarah finding a dark lustre to her voice to aid meaningful word-painting and intense delivery, intimate rather than operatic yet conveying much depth and enjoying an idiomatic echt-Berliozian accompaniment as part of a rendition that drew the listener in and, for those present, might well have shrunk the Albert Hall to the size and immediacy of the Wigmore.
Brabbins’s plans this Friday evening may have included blowing-out sixty-two candles. Instead he was conducting Beethoven 6, a welcome opportunity to listen to his ‘core’ skills following his championing of so much repertoire that is new or off the radar. It was a fine reading, opening with a joyous and (no pun) springy first movement (with exposition repeat) that allowed for contemplation of the scenery, then a flowing current and sweet lyricism were in evidence for the ‘Scene by the Brook’ in which birdsong made a beguiling appearance (woodwind-playing throughout was full of character). Following which the Peasants were buoyant and frisky … but their parade was rained off when a whiplash Storm arrived – piercing piccolo and thunderous timpani to the fore – but once the inclemency had cleared, all was fine; however, a word of Thanksgiving to a deity of choice was in order, returning us full-circle to joyousness and the rapt appreciation of the countryside.
This fresh performance – Is-dotted and Ts-crossed as a springboard for the greater musical good and with dynamics subtly woven in – really hit the spot, scenically and spiritually.