Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Tuesday, August 9, 2020

Royal Albert Hall, London

Robert Schumann’s Fourth Symphony (1851 revision) concluded this without-interval Prom (good idea, several benefits) in grand style, Daniele Rustioni favouring spacious speeds, expressive largesse, and clear detailing (not least timpani) and dynamics: a momentous traversal, with a few foot-stamps along the way, through the four linked movements (well done for omitting the Finale’s repeat), and with space for spontaneous increases of pace, such as when concluding the outer movements. The evening had opened with an excellent account of the ‘Overture & Venusberg Music’ from Wagner’s Tannhäuser (an uninterrupted sequence as in the Paris version of the opera), noble horns, warm and athletic strings, and well-chosen tempos from Rustioni, the music not allowed to linger yet without denuding its solemnity, and exciting propulsion elsewhere, the playing vivid and punctilious during the bacchanal (the castanets always make me smile), and then the slumbering post-pleasure was most sensitively, even sensually distilled. Mahler dropped Blumine as the second movement of his First Symphony (although some conductors reinstate it), and as a stand-alone item it makes for a magical listen, breathing pure mountain air. Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs found Louise Alder in glorious voice, the performance owing much to Rustioni and the Ulster musicians, the soprano radiant, soaring, shapely of phrase, exhibiting luxurious tone and word-painting (Hesse and, final setting, Eichendorff) – fine horn and violin solos, too, with the very end, on this occasion, sounding as if we really were on the border of the next world. No-one clapped until all four songs were over, and the Radio 3 announcer avoided what some of his colleagues are too prone to do, such as telling us what we should listen out for and/or giving their post-performance opinion. Thank-you Andrew McGregor.