BBC Proms: ‘Meld’ and LSO/Haitink, Royal Albert Hall, London – review

It has taken three years to figure out a way of performing Benedict Mason’s Meld. Even the BBC Proms, home of the gigantic in music, found it had bitten off more than it could easily chew – a work of mind-blowing complexity, which scatters a chorus and orchestra to every corner of the concert hall and keeps them constantly on the move.

Don’t call it music. Call it an installation. The entertainment value in Meld comes from saying to oneself, “Where is that horn-player coming from?” or “Why can I hear voices echoing off the other side of the hall?” At one point the string players appeared in all the second-tier boxes and set a ripple of pizzicatos going round the hall, like a musical Mexican wave. At another, the brass stepped forward from far-flung nooks and crannies, played a single chord perfectly in unison, and then disappeared again. More than 140 performers – the Aurora Orchestra and choral group Chantage – were involved and it seemed nobody was still for a second. After keeping this in order, choreographing Swan Lake must be a doddle. It would be interesting to know, though, what people who were listening to the radio broadcast thought. Away from the site-specific activity inside the hall, Meld has precious little music in it worth hearing. It is nothing more than a victory of presentation over content.

That was the last work in Saturday’s late-night Prom, the climax of a truly bizarre programme that took in a six-minute work for violin and hurdy-gurdy by Dobrinka Tabakova and a fervent performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, conducted by Nicholas Collon, which the Aurora Orchestra played entirely from memory.

The main Prom of the evening could hardly have looked more staid by comparison, but that would be to underestimate conductor Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra. Their performance of Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 was light, loving, sprightly (what vitality Haitink has at 85). Their Mahler, a rapt performance of the Symphony No. 4, was as fresh and welcome as a blue sky on a spring morning. Perhaps there are darker clouds in the music that Haitink did not explore, but the LSO’s playing was beautifully detailed, and Camilla Tilling was a verbally acute soloist in the finale, where Mahler approaches the gates of heaven.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.