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  PROM 28 -  Stravinsky, Mozart and Mahler: Karen Geoghegan (bassoon), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda, Royal Albert Hall, London, 5.8.2009 (BBr)

Stravinsky: Scènes de ballet (1944)
Mozart: Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, K191 (1774)
Mahler: Symphony No.6 in A minor (1903/1904 rev 1906)

Debuts are always auspicious occasions and it’s hard to think of any recent one as interesting or important as this, for tonight we were introduced to a soloist of the highest order.

Karen Geoghegan was runner–up in the recent BBC2 series Classical Star, and nowhere has the word star been more deserved. Playing Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto with an authority which belied her youth, Geoghegan was at ease with both the music and the occasion. This is a delightful concoction, full of good tunes, the slow movement is almost an operatic aria, and lots of display. Geoghegan was magnificent in the cadenzas (I wonder who wrote them?) and delighted in soaring up to a top C in the slow movement, a note which wasn’t available to Mozart at the time, but who cares? This was pure enjoyment and Geoghegan was well supported by the reduced forces of the BBC Phil with discreet leadership from Noseda.

The show opened with Stravinsky’s Scènes de ballet, a rather po–faced work, supposedly created afterDelibes Giselle (really?) It stands well alone, but it’s a rather arid score, which offers little for real enjoyment but much to admire. As you’d expect from this master of the orchestra it is well laid out for the band and Noseda brought out the excellence of the scoring, keeping a tight reign on the progress of the music and never allowing the argument to become diffuse, as can happen in less taut performances.

After the interval we were given Mahler’s huge 6thSymphony. Here the orchestra was in its element. The huge forces were handled well by Noseda, who obviously had given much time and thought to his interpretation, but for reasons best known to himself he chose very fast tempi which, although creating much excitement, lost in terms of tension and missing that sense of manic paranoia, neuroticism and angst which is so much part and parcel of Mahler’s work. Because of the speed with which Noseda dispatched the music the coda of the first movement was started too quickly and there was nothing left for the final race to the end, but yet he allowed the “Alma” theme to breath, and not only in the first movement (which, thankfully, had the exposition repeated) but when it reappears as the main theme of the finale, as Harold Truscott has pointed out (The Symphony (Penguin 1966 and 1967)). Elsewhere, there was a breathlessness, which wasn’t at all Mahlerian and which, for me, spoiled my enjoyment of the performance. But Mahler is nothing if not a survivor and it must be said that this was a thrilling performance with excellent contributions from every section of the orchestra – I must mention the superb coup de theâtre at the climax of the finale when five set of cymbals clashed simultaneously, it looked good but added nothing of musical value to the performance.

But who am I to comment? The audience went wild so if this performance pleased 5,000 people all I can do is report what I heard.

Bob Briggs


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