Monday, August 27, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: BBC PROMS

August 21, 2007

 

Matthew Rye reviews Prom 40: Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi

Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi Last night's Prom featured two important debuts from among Germany's revered musical pantheon.

The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, one of the country's top broadcasting ensembles, has taken the best part of three-quarters of a century since its foundation to make it to the Royal Albert Hall; baritone Matthias Goerne has obviously not waited half so long, but his belated first Prom appearance was no less welcome.

Their programme, under the orchestra's new chief conductor Paavo Järvi, was solidly Austro-German, too, with Goerne singing a selection of songs from Mahler's 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' between music by Weber and Brahms.

Such is the baritone's highly responsive and emotive way of singing that each of Mahler's songs took on the weight of a miniature operatic scene, with their array of chilling, ghostly encounters between soldiers and their fate only tempered by the comic interludes of song contest between cuckoo and nightingale and Anthony of Padua's sermon to the fishes.

But most affecting of all was 'Urlicht', 'Primal Light', where Goerne, a singer more used to communicating to select hundreds at Wigmore Hall rather than thousands at the Proms, filled the RAH's cavernous space with a series of remarkable floating pianissimos. Such composure is not something one could accuse Schoenberg's orchestration of Brahms's G minor Piano Quartet of needing.

Early in his career, Schoenberg and his disciples felt the need to arrange full-scale works such as Mahler symphonies for chamber forces in order to hear them performed. By 1937, the year of his Brahms arrangement, the situation had reversed and he honoured his great idol not least to save the trio from bad chamber performances and give it a new lease of life.

The result is Brahms refracted through a 20th-century lense, and Järvi and his wonderfully responsive orchestra made no bones about the later composer's sense of fun with his subject-matter, introducing such un-Brahmsian yet echt Second Viennese School colours as E flat clarinet, muted brass and xylophone. It was the kind of performance to remind us that Brahms's trio -- in whatever form -- must be one of the most joyous minor-key works in the repertoire.

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