BBC Proms reviews

Prom 33: BBC Philharmonic/Mena @ Royal Albert Hall, London

7 August 2012

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Andy Paradise/Royal Albert Hall)

The BBC Philharmonic’s third visit to this year’s Proms saw them reunited with current Chief Conductor Juanjo Mena following their appearance last week with previous Chief Conductor (and now Conductor Laureate) Gianandrea Noseda.

It’s not often that one hears the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde performed without the opera’s concluding Liebestod in tow. However, this performance involved the rarely heard concert version of the Prelude, which contains some additional 20 bars of music composed by Wagner to dissipate the tension that would normally be resolved by hearing the rest of the opera. Mena’s performance opened with a sense of mystery, despite the distraction of latecomers finding their seats in the stalls, and was convincingly shaped, although the main climax could have had some more weight and passion.

This was followed by the world premiere of James MacMillan’s Credo, a three-part work for choir and orchestra. Written for concert performance rather than liturgical use, MacMillan describes the piece as being “festive in mood and large in scale”. The resulting score, melodic and accessible, eschews the overreliance on percussion so common in modern works, although is notably eclectic, with echoes of Vaughan Williams, Messiaen, Pärt and Bartók. Indeed, it was often difficult to discern the logic behind MacMillan’s frequent stylistic shifts along the way. Nevertheless, the work was given an enthusiastic performance by the joint forces of the BBC Philharmonic, the Manchester Chamber Choir, the Northern Sinfonia Chorus and the Rushley Singers under Mena’s direction.

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in A major remains one of the composer’s least played symphonies, despite its melodic beauty, rhythmic vitality and accessible dimensions. Mena, conducting from memory, provided an often deeply felt and authoritative account of Bruckner’s score, with some excellent playing from individual sections of the orchestra. However, his slow tempo for the Adagio occasionally resulted in loss of focus, and problems with balance sometimes undermined the results elsewhere. Aided by some excellent brass playing, the final movement was the most persuasive, but the performance as a whole was slightly too uneven to be completely convincing.

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