Photo, Mark Allan

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

We live in strange times – when so few of Paul Hindemith’s works now have only a foothold on the repertoire, such as his Mathis der Maler Symphony and, included in this Prom, the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, a cumbersome title not necessarily suggestive of it being a masterpiece of invention and orchestration. (His equally marvellous Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Opus 50, for Boston and Serge Koussevitzky, deserves greater exposure, so too Nobilissima visione.) From the NYO and Carlos Miguel Prieto the Weber transformations had vitality, vivid detailing, variety, swing, atmosphere and swagger, with characterful solos (a word for the flautist in the third movement) and unanimous tuttis, the players responding to requirements with confidence and talent, the uproarious closing pages blazing away.

Sensitive accompaniments (fine violin and horn solos) informed Richard Strauss’s four swansongs in which Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (a prizewinner at the 2021 Cardiff Singer) was a little shrill in the highest registers and somewhat square of phrase with a tendency to wander off the vocal line. The final impression, as much down to the conducting, was of stilted renditions (in particular the final setting, of Eichendorff’s ‘Im Abendrot’, dragged laboriously), although Rangwanasha certainly has a generous voice and the ability to engage, if sporadically. For an encore she was in her element for elaborate arrangements by Errollyn Wallen fitting together a couple of traditional numbers close to the singer’s heart, the NYO instrumentalists now a congregational choir.

Of the “Holy Trinity” of American Third Symphonies (the others being by Roy Harris and William Schuman), Aaron Copland’s example (1946, emerging from World War II, and another Koussevitzky premiere) found Prieto emphasising the tension and emotionalism of the preludial first movement, and his attacca into the Scherzo was dramatically convincing, its tricky rhythms and taxing brass-writing negotiated impressively, the Trio a moment of pastoral escape. The enigmatic slow movement was expressive, and then spiky in the dance that emerges, before turning back to chilling uncertainty if growing into the Finale, Copland incorporating his Fanfare for the Common Man to initiate and punctuate music that comes from shadows to culminate in cinematic optimism, Technicolor and widescreen on this occasion, although the outsize NYO (a little tired-sounding by now, if determined) tended towards bombastic. Even allowing that Copland wrote him a Clarinet Concerto, the big-band Benny Goodman encore (amplified?) rather undid the Symphony, and the Radio 3 presenter was overly repetitious.

Includes Concert Music, Op.50. Chicago, April 7, 1963.