This DVD contains six visits to the BBC Proms in successive
years, some visits of shorter duration than others, to catch
performances of Viennese classics given a local English accent.
Most performances are in the hands of James Loughran and the
Hallé, but there’s a bonus of a single performance by János
Fürst with the old BBC Northern, and the considerable pleasure
of seeing Walter Süsskind in six outings with both the BBC Symphony
and the Royal Philharmonic.
Loughran back in this period looked like a youngish Carlo Maria
Giulini. Behind his back serried ranks of youthful Prommers
sway merrily, knotted handkerchiefs on their long-haired heads.
Mr Gumby clearly ruled the roost. They grin, gurn, guffaw, sing
along, pass along cans and take dirty great swigs, and even,
at one point, dance in the arena. The Pythonesque rollicking
of the student audience perhaps allows one to forget that the
orchestra’s visits to the Proms had been a regular occurrence
under John Barbirolli, then only a few years dead.
One feature of the DVD is that since it’s been programmed composer
by composer — pieces by Johann Strauss II followed by Lehár
and then back to Strauss II, before Strauss I and finally von
Suppé — we move from one performance back to another, thence
to another. It is, I think, disconcerting to start with Loughran
in 1974, roll onto Süsskind in 1978, scoot back to Loughran
in 1975 and so on. I appreciate it’s not Mahler’s Ninth, but
the lack of continuity and programmatic integrity within performances
is most odd.
The BBC Symphony are decked out with umbrellas in their outing
in 1978 in Unter Donner und Blitz — along with very white
shirts under which British men then still wore string vests,
many plainly visible. The only thing stranger than all this
malarkey is Süsskind’s wig. In fact it was a leitmotif of watching
him that one minute I swore I could see the join, and the next
I swore I couldn’t. Then I came to the conclusion it wasn’t
a wig at all. Such are the perils for a critic of watching sweaty
Waltz nights on DVD. The Czech-born conductor is first rate
- he was a marvellous accompanist too - and it was a special
pleasure to me to see him, my first such opportunity. He was
very popular in Britain, and never gave up his British citizenship.
Unlike Loughran he doesn’t camp things up.
Sheila Armstrong appears in two songs from Fledermaus and
she sings with coloratura brilliance. Tellingly the orchestra
clearly enjoyed her singing, as did I.
Other things that I noticed; there’s a fiddle dude in the RPO
with dark shades and a rather Mafioso look about him. Others
look like the late Screaming Lord Sutch. The beards and Zapata
moustaches in the 1979 BBC Northern are straight out of The
History Man. Those were the days.
The only demerit of the footage is a slight bit of distortion
in the last track, in which János Fürst extracts a full complement
of Brucknerian heft from Suppé. Also, some of the camera shots
linger on the wrong things. There are too many shots of Loughran
and too few of his band, whereas there are too many shots of
his bands and too few of Süsskind.
All right; who is this for? Nostalgics? Lovers of Prom history?
Loughran family members? Waltz addicts who don’t mind the British
bulldog biting the balls of Viennese elegance? It’s unruly,
it’s uncouth, and it’s decidedly de trop. I quite liked