Friday, August 6, 2021, Royal Albert Hall, London

Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30 p.m.

In the first of his two ‘rescue’ Proms (in a week’s time he stands in for Sir Andrew Davis; Payne, Berlioz, Beethoven), Martyn Brabbins replaced Joana Carneiro.

The unchanged programme, a pertinent coupling, opened with Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater (1736, reflecting Mary’s grief during Jesus’s Crucifixion), written on the verge of death by the tuberculosis-suffering composer. Two singers (Carolyn Sampson & Tim Mead, both displaying their experience in matters Baroque) and an ensemble of strings, plus continuo, made for touching if often-sorrowful listening, spiced by operatic declamation and buoyant rhythms, over twelve movements and for close-on forty minutes in a reading designed for the present century to emphasise the timelessness of Pergolesi’s eloquent invention and haunting expression. Amen to that.

In composing the Diaghilev-commissioned Pulcinella (1920, premiered in Paris, conducted by Ansermet with choreography by Massine and sets & costumes by Picasso), Stravinsky believed he was adapting music exclusively by the short-lived Pergolesi to fit the libretto focussing on eighteenth-century commedia dell’arte characters. In fact his composer playlist was more extensive. Such background aside, Pulcinella is a delectable score.

The thirty-three BBCSSO instrumentalists (Stravinsky very precise with his requirements) played splendidly and elegantly for Brabbins who, as in the Stabat Mater, chose judicious tempos, sought a lightness of touch and clarity of detail, and he didn’t overdo the trombone/double bass humour; funnier that way. The trio of singers (Mead not required) also contributed much to what was a delightfully springy and shapely account, affectionate too.

Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Tim Mead, countertenor; Benjamin Hulett, tenor; Simon Shibambu, bass-baritone

https://www.bbc.co.uk/proms