Classical and Opera Reviews

Prom 30: Sibelius – Symphony No 5; Tchaikovsky, Mahler @ Royal Albert Hall, London

5 August 2005

It was to be the stuff of dreams. NeemeJarvi was sadly not well enough to conduct hisGothenburg forces at the Albert Hall, soresponsibility fell to the young Venezuelan prodigyGustavo Dudamel, making his Proms debut at theage of twenty four in front of an expectantaudience.

Unfortunately nobody told the engineers. Thefamiliar warning to switch off mobile phones had asting in its tail, in the form of two notes ofsonorous feedback. Once there, it just wouldn’t goaway!

“The Tubin has been replaced by Stockhausen!”chorused the Prommers, referring also to theunfortunate casualty of the evening, Tubin’sToccata. “Stockhausen isn’t that nice!” camethe response from the gallery. The two notescontinued, the Gothenburgers patiently waiting on theplatform. Prom director Nicholas Kenyon appeared onthree occasions to thank us for our patience. Finallythe problem was resolved, and the crazy notion offeedback at a classical music concert was put tobed.

Dudamel bounded on again, and began withTchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini. This is oneof the composer’s most personal utterances, andDudamel threw himself into the challenge, wringing outthe notes from the string players, coaxing awonderfully controlled clarinet solo in the slowermusic. The tempest swirled and the conductor, whoapparently had just five rehearsals to prepare, beamedappreciatively at the results. It was hard not toshare his enthusiasm.

Sibelius’ fifth symphony, as always, offered hugechallenge. Having recorded it recently under Jarvi forDeutsche Grammophon, the orchestra had it completelyunder their fingertips, and indeed rarely glanced atthe conductor as he once again strained every sinew.It will be interesting to see on record if they adoptthe slowing down of the tempo before Sibelius’masterstroke, the doubling of the beat to lead theopening movement into the scherzo without a break.Here it became a touch hurried, but the tremolostrings were always evocative, in the finale too wherethey revealed an uncanny similarity to the openingwork. Dudamel showed all his credentials as he broughtthe work to its mighty conclusion with the six hugechords. He fully deserved his ovation.

There was an ovation, too, for the radiant AnneSofie von Otter, who held us captive for Mahler’sRuckert-Lieder. Succeeding where so manysingers have failed, she effortlessly projected hervoice over the arena, helped of course by Mahler’sdeft instrumentation but also by Dudamel’s sensitiveaccompaniment. The fourth song, which translates asI Am Lost To The World, was pure delight, thehushed strings in awe of the singer, who intoned “Ichbin gestorben dem Weltgetummel, und ruh’ in einemstillen Gebiet!” (“I am dead to the world’s tumult,and repose in a tranquil domain”). After forty-fiveminutes of rather less tranquil feedback, this waspure bliss.

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