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.
There is always something special in the Four Last Songs being performed in the Royal Albert Hall – after all, the work was first performed in this very place.
True enough Bob, May 22, 1950, Kirsten Flagstad with the Philharmonia under Furtwängler (a posthumous premiere that I believe is on Testament, which I have never heard… I must catch up). Colin
It has its detractors but I think it’s wonderful, one of my very favourite discs.
The Strauss lieder were most beautifully performed. The rest was weak, lacking in lyricism especially in the Schumann, the woodwinds were weak and faltered.
Agree. The Schumann was just tedious – a most odd symphony with an unclear structure and the usual Schumann over indulgences.
As someone who enjoys the grandeur and depth of Mahler’s symphonies, I had to wonder where Mahler was in Blumine.
But the Four Last Songs – exquisite. Programming that alone would have been enough…
What rubbish you write about the Schumann. All four of his symphonies are masterpieces. If you really think the 4th’s structure is unclear then there really is no hope for you. It has a totally clear direction.
i should have added what a fine orchestra this is! – sounded simply first-class in every respect; the Ulster Orchestra is demonstrably in the front rank of European orchestras.
I was at the RAH last night and l thought the performance was really very poor.
The first half, especially the Wagner, sounded sloppy and under-rehearsed.
I know that the acoustics at the RAH can play tricks on the ear but even allowing for that it seemed that there were some pretty fundamental problems with the ensemble, not just with the woodwind but across the board.
There is no excuse for professional brass players to be splitting notes on big occasions, and at times the horns seemed to lose the plot completely. The conductor’s decision to single out trumpet and horns for applause felt like an ironic gesture.
I had doubts beforehand as to whether Louise Alder was a suitable choice for the Strauss because, even though it’s written for a lyric soprano, a pretty heavy voice is required to float above what are some very dense textures in the orchestra. My reservations proved to be correct, with notes in the upper and lower registers going missing. Ultimately, the orchestra did her no favours. The sound from woodwind in particular lacked any sublety or shading; they just played the notes.
The Schumann was better. One got the sense the orchestra was more within its comfort zone and that the music had been better rehearsed. But at times the conducting was so pointlessly self indulgent that the whole thing seemed at risk of derailing. There’s no need to start dancing just because you’re conducting a quasi waltz.
The reception from the audience was pretty lukewarm so I can’t have been alone in my impressions. The lack of an encore was a relief rather than a disappointment.
I was there … was particularly struck by how great the orchestra were! Thanks for the review.