Photo, Sisi Burn

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Helen Grime’s Meditations on Joy (BBC co-commission: UK premiere) conveys a range of emotions and circumstances, private sadness to begin with, strings dominant, contrasted with much public angst expressed through dissonant flaring brass; then the music sprays forward with mercurial speed and spectral glints; finally, a gentler ebb and flow, light and shade suggestive of reconciliation, the music more consonant. It’s an impressive (fifteen-minute) piece, maybe not commensurate with its title … but, then, what is joy?

(The interval discussion included a shameless Radio 3 contrivance – the inclusion of part of Tchaikovsky Six, the recording used not specified, just to preview the next Prom, which means R3 listeners need spoon-feeding.)

As for Beethoven Nine, an honest and worthy performance, details and dynamics attended to, Is dotted and Ts crossed, very well played. The first movement lacked for mystery initially, although greater speed and power was found later there was little sense of breaking boundaries. The Scherzo (with all repeats observed, important) sprinted, although the timpani interjections were sometimes muddied, and the Trio flew by, persuasively. A broad tempo and expressive largesse informed the slow movement, Adagio-Andante contrasts subtly made, some very fine woodwind-playing and the solo for the fourth horn came off well. Any chance of an attacca into the Finale was sabotaged by a pre-emptive attack of clapping (not for the first time) by a selfish few, and when the music got going, inspired by Schiller’s words, there was indeed joy, high-standard choral singing and notable vocal solos, Ryan Wigglesworth avoiding being metronomic, opening up the grand passages if, ultimately, not quite capping what had gone before, for the coda was a little earthbound, a rush of blood to the head avoided.

Eleanor Dennis (soprano)
Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano)
Nicky Spence (tenor)
Michael Mofidian (bass-baritone)