Magazine article The Spectator

Prom Pleasures

Magazine article The Spectator

Prom Pleasures

Article excerpt

In an uncharacteristically uncharismatic season, the resplendent highlight so far has been Rameau's last ancien regime fusion-- of-the-arts pantomime Les Boreades, 'semi-- staged' on its way to the real thing. at Salzburg. Bare boards, plain clothes, minimal movements didn't matter: the interior of the Royal Albert Hall is always such a scrumptious sight, not even Versailles in 1760 (the work's original date and venue) could trump it. Nor did the absence till the interval of programmes, with complete explanation and libretto of the recherche plot, impede pleasure in this glorious succession of varied music -- instrumentally colourful, rhythmically vital, melodically alluring, now festive now melancholy, defiant, pastoral, astonishingly bold and effective in rendering winds and storms.

Despite the withheld story, the dramatic nature of the pacing, the spacious continuities, the tensions and relaxations, were unmissable. The audience enjoyed all this in the abstract: Rameau's greatness was never more apparent than when one could submit to his musical abundance without being bothered by the mythology and the gallantries. In fact these are in this final burst by a composer in his late seventies both coherent and expressive, as one realised afterwards, reading the resume in the homebound Tube.

It is astonishing to remember that such a fine score had to wait close on 200 years for its first performance, having been taken out of rehearsal in 1760 for reasons unclear. I'm looking forward to fusing text action and music via the pioneer recording under John Eliot Gardiner; but can't imagine anything more lively, supple, ardent, yielding, than on 19 July. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and a cast headed by Barbara Bonney, were directed by Simon Rattle, manifestly at home with the baroque composer best set to benefit from his relish for the colouristic opulence and bodily ebullience of Ravel, Szymanowsky and the early Stravinsky ballets.

Relish was equally palpable for '100 Years of Film Music' (31 July), Lord Attenborough presiding, Carl Davis conducting (mostly). Hearty, nourishing kitsch, pathos, uplift, more enjoyable than many a would-be serious Soviet symphony or minimalist oratorio and (in the earlier decades) far more skilful. I was settling down the next evening to Elgar's Kingdom, a maximalist oratorio with a vengeance, in a performance under Andrew Davis that promised dramatic momentum as well as the more usual devotional fervour, when a power-cut severed the link to Old Jerusalem via the Three Choirs and the shires of Edwardian England (not to mention the RAH). …

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