BBC Proms reviews

Prom 28 review – an evening of colours and textures from NYO and Carlos Miguel Prieto

5 August 2023

A programme of Hindemith, Strauss and Copland gives the chance for the National Youth Orchestra to explore all the emotions.

Prom 28

The trombones of The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (Photo: Mark Allan)

Paul Hindemith is not a composer one readily turns to for lightheartedness, but his Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber is a jolly carnival of a work, and it made a suitable opening piece for this year’s NYO tour de force. For all sorts of reasons, the platform is always full to busting when the NYO perform (8 trombones!), and the wall of sound they make is always a pleasure to look forward to every season. The numbers, though, didn’t quite serve them well for the opening ‘Allegro’ of the Hindemith; the start was gutsy enough, certainly, and full of swirling flutes and swooshing violins, but it took the orchestra – particularly the upper strings – a while to sort out their co-ordination, and there was a fuzziness to the sound, a little reminiscent of the mizzle in the air outside the Royal Albert Hall. This didn’t touch the solo work, though, and the oboe melody in the middle of the movement was nicely defined.

By the middle of the second movement, things had settled and the pianissimo bells and flute passages, as well as the material for rumbly basses and cellos, were given plenty of nuance. By the time we reached the gurgling lip trills and busy sawing of the final movement, all was well with the world, and, looking back, one could perceive a well planned and generally well executed performance under Prieto’s exacting direction.

The soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha has enjoyed a vertiginous rise to fame since winning the Song Prize at Cardiff Singer of the World two years ago, and her reputation is well deserved. There’s power in her voice, but it’s only unleashed when necessary, and for much of the time we are given tones of smokey honey – sweet (especially above the stave) with the tiniest touch of huskiness. Her account of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs, then, was a must-listen, and there was absolutely no disappointment to be found at her glittering performance.

“…the wall of sound they make is always a pleasure to look forward to…”

Prom 28

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha & Carlos Miguel Prieto (Photo: Mark Allan)

She sang without score, and with passion and intent, her gestures and glance augmenting the glorious sound of her voice. It seemed, from her account, that she’d listened at length to the award-winning 1966 Schwarzkopf/Szell recording, as so much of Schwarzkopf’s interpretations were present in the performance: the brilliant dynamic control; the way the notes were just touched in the drop of a 12th in ‘Beim Schlafgehen’; the warm intensity of ‘Im Abendrot’. The orchestra also turned in a first-rate account, as, for a large number of players, everything was brilliantly held back to allow Rangwanasha her spotlight, but then let out of the bag when she wasn’t singing to allow us to wallow in Strauss’ melting harmonies (the passage of withheld strings at ‘O weiter, stiller Friede’ was utterly magical). A huge shout-out, too, to Daniel Hibbert for the restrained and lyrical horn solo in ‘September’. As an encore, Rangwanasha performed Errollyn Wallen’s a cappella arrangement of ‘The Whole World in His Hands’ accompanied by the voices of the orchestra, and while it was full of the emotional resonances of her native South Africa, and it was beautifully performed, it somehow burst the mood bubble left by the Strauss.

There’s nowt so absolutely American (musically, at any rate) as Copland’s third symphony. Famous, of course for the fanfare in the fourth movement, which Copland later rescored as the separate piece Fanfare for the Common Man, it’s a celebration of the allied victories at the end of the second world war. There are, arguably, more complex and interesting symphonies of the period (one thinks of Roy Harris’ symphonies, or those of Howard Hanson), but those big Copland signature empty arpeggios, and the musical references to ranchers’ hoedowns and revivalists’ hymns instantly summon images of Tom Hanks (dressed in the costume of the American hero of your choice) standing in front of a slowly waving Ol’ Glory.

It’s also a perfect symphony for a large orchestra to tackle, and the NYO really got their teeth into it. The big moments of solid brass had you pushed back into your seat, and the occasional pastoral idyll (with flutes – it’s always flutes with Copland!) was given the lightest of touches. Particularly impressive was the tiniest sound made by the violins at the opening of the third movement – almost as if it was someone whistling up in the Hall’s restaurant. The symphony is also full of busy syncopation – whether that’s from a brash ‘the cowboys are coming’ passage, the almost-fugue in the fourth movement, or the delicate little duets for woodwind and percussion in the second movement, or the plucked strings and woodwind in the third – and the orchestra took all this in their stride, serving precision, accuracy and a fierce sense of rhythmic drive and dynamic nuance.

A foot-tapping and fabulously blowsy performance of Louis Prima’s Swing Swing Swing as an encore allowed for some virtuosic showing off from various instrumental soloists, and sent the audience out into the drizzle with a light step.

• Prom 28 can be audio streamed from BBC Sounds

• Details of the 2023 BBC Proms season can be found here.

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