Proms 50 - 51
Royal Albert Hall
A Bach day encouraged a large audience for Simon Preston's opening organ recital. Inevitably he opened with the dubious D minor Toccata & Fugue but brought a sense of bravura and style which was to mark the whole event. If some of the articulation was garbled towards the end of the Fugue this was the only time his judgement seemed to slip and – having got the D minor out of the way – he seemed to relax and give us a far more deeply felt involvement with his programme.
The Canonic Variations on Vom Himmel hoch were exceptionally well registered with great clarity and warmth throughout. Only the final variation opened into the grandiose, and was quite justified for all that. The St Anne Prelude and Fugue were split, with three other works between the two parts. This is an increasingly common practice but one which in this case worked very well. The rich approach to the tonal palette in the opening Prelude was contrasted with an astringent reading of Vater unser im Himmerlreich BWV 682, and a sense of passion and nobility in Aus tiefer Noth schrei' ich zu dir' BWV 686 (not the BWV 687 as advertised). Then came a delightful soufflé in the form of the Duetto BWV 803 before the hedonistically beautiful St Anne Fugue. All Bach organ programmes can be a minefield for the unwary but this was an exceptionally well balanced programme and very warmly received.
The second Prom of the day brought back Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists for the St John Passion. As with the Mass in B minor which he performed for the Bach anniversary in 2000, this performance was part of an extensive tour, performing the work in many countries. It was a privilege to hear it at the Proms, being one of the finest I can recall, particularly in John Eliot Gardiner's ability to shape and control the musical line, giving it immediacy and inevitability.
Added to this he has some of the finest Bach soloists at his command with Mark Padmore unsurpassed as the Evangelist and Peter Harvey bringing nobility and compassion to Christus. Of the fine solo singers, all drawn from the Monteverdi Choir, Katharine Fuge's radiant Soprano was matched by the stunning clarity and élan of Robin Blaze's counter-tenor. Individual solos from the within the orchestra were all world class, and it was interesting that the chamber organ being used is getting larger – at last! The day closed with three of Bach's cello suites performed by Jian Wang. I caught these later on the radio – and very good they were – as National Rail does not seem to want anybody who lives outside the underground radius to remain in London for much after 10.00pm.
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