MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.

Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny

  • Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs

Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



PROM 51 – Haydn, Szymanowski and Brahms:
Helena Juntunen (soprano), Monica Groop (mezzo-soprano), Scott Hendricks (baritone), Joshua Bell(violin), BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra,Osmo Vänskä(conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London. 23.8.2009 (RC)

Haydn: Symphony No. 101 in D major, ‘Clock’ (1793-4)

Szymanowski: Stabat mater (1925-6)

Brahms: Violin Concerto (1878)

Tonight’s programme of three masterworks by three very different composers had me intrigued long before the first note sounded. Despite the evident quality of the music and performers I wondered whether it would it work as a whole. However, after two hours of engrossing and spirited music-making the answer was an emphatic yes.

Things began in upbeat fashion with Haydn’s ‘Clock’ Symphony, premiered only a couple of miles away some 215 years ago. This marvellous example of Haydn’s genius at combining approachability and intellectual rigour elicited a joyful performance from Vanska and the BBC SO. The transition from the portentous slow introduction to the fast section was deftly done, and Vanska’s dramatic use of silence was telling in the middle movements. The punchy Finale went at a cracking pace, keeping the string players on their toes in the contrapuntal passages.

Prior to tonight’s concert Szymanowski’s Stabat mater had received just two performances at the Proms. Written in response to a family tragedy, it is a deeply felt work of transcendental beauty, the composer attempting ‘the fusion of the words’ emotional substance with its musical equivalent.’ Vanska was continually sensitive to the shifting moods and colours of this complex score, coaxing a luminous performance from his musicians. Particular mention should be made of the BBC Symphony Chorus who excelled themselves throughout (and in Polish). After the exquisite a cappella fourth movement the fifth movement built up inexorably to the climactic ‘Day of Judgement’ when the full forces were joined by the organ. A memorable Prom’s performance.

In contrast to the Szymanowski’s meagre performance history, Brahms’s Violin Concerto has racked up a remarkable 83 outings at the Proms. Violinist Joshua Bell gave a commanding performance of the solo part, masterfully balancing the work’s abundant lyrical and dramatic qualities. In the second movement’s outpourings Bell gave the music plenty of time and space to breathe. In the finale the Hungarian dance spirit came to the fore, with Bell pouncing on his entries like a true gypsy fiddler. Vanska and the BBC SO were willing partners throughout.

Robert Costin

Back to Top                                                    Cumulative Index Page