BBC Proms: Aurora, Orchestra/Mahler, Chamber Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, London
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The night birds at the BBC Proms are the ones with a sense of adventure. Unperturbed by the prospect of getting home as the clock ticks towards midnight, audiences at the late-night Proms are ready to venture where others are reluctant to tread and this year’s line-up includes everything from world music to The Stranglers and Frank Zappa.
It was Zappa whose music came up first. Apparently, he was banned from the Royal Albert Hall in 1971 and this Prom performance of his zany satire The Adventures of Greggery Peccary blew a noisy raspberry, like a thumb-to-the-nose from beyond the grave. About 20 minutes long, the piece tells the story of a pig that rails against the greed and drudgery of American capitalism. It is the musical forerunner of The Simpsons and has lost little of its cartoon-caper colour and energy, even if the style seems dated (1978). Mitch Benn was the narrator and Christopher Purves relished doing piggery service in the title role.
The Aurora Orchestra under Nicholas Collon, its artistic director, fielded a huge number of players for a late-night Prom. They dazzled in the glittering complexity of an orchestral arrangement of one of Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano and Zappa’s G-Spot Tornado. By comparison, Philip Glass’s Symphony No.10, in its first UK performance, excitably piled on the usual minimalist repetitions, but felt like much ado about nothing.
Quality comes in all shapes and sizes at the Proms. On the previous evening the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s concert had been the exact opposite, mellow and unassuming. If anybody was wondering why the standard of playing was so high, it is helpful to remember that this orchestra supplies many of the players who make up the world-beating but part-time Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
In Schumann’s Symphony No.2, the early Romantic sound was warm and cultivated, enlivened by buoyant speeds from conductor laureate Daniel Harding. There was little Finnish chill and darkness in Sibelius’s Symphony No.7, though the music’s sense of tectonic plates slowly grinding towards the end was well sustained. Paul Lewis was the comparably gentle, warm-hearted soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto K503, and the finale of Mozart’s Symphony No.41 made a welcome encore.
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