Part 7: Sunshine through the rain

Tristan Jakob-Hoff enjoys a taste of summer at the BBC Philharmonic's Italian-inspired Prom

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So it’s back to talking about the weather again I’m afraid. Last night the British summer showed a distinctly mean-spirited sense of humour, letting rip with an almighty downpour on the concertgoers attending Gianandrea Noseda’s second Prom with the BBC Philharmonic (seen above in their Prom with Noseda last season). The concert was dedicated to, of all things, the sun-ripened joys of Noseda’s native Italy, so you can imagine why a dose of torrential rain felt a little inconsistent with the evening’s theme.
   
Thankfully the sun well and truly shone for Noseda and his orchestra. He has a captivating effect on these players: rarely have I seen a group of professional British musicians enjoying themselves so much, an infectious quality which seemed to rub off on the audience. It was smiles all round at the close of Respighi’s Pines of Rome, whose blazing organ and thunderous percussion had audience members literally whooping with pleasure.

And why not? It might not be an especially great piece, but it can sure sound like one – especially in a performance as good as this. The strings were simply dripping with sentiment in the second movement, while the third ended with a restrained and therefore rather magical duet for clarinet and tape-recorded nightingale. The finale, basically one long crescendo, was superbly controlled – hence the whooping.

At the start of the evening, a brisk account of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony kicked things off in stylish fashion. The strings sounded a little thin in the opening movement – exhausted, no doubt, by Wednesday’s Mahler Six – but the whole orchestra grew in confidence with each successive movement, culminating in a wry, Beethoven-hued Minuet and a quicksilver Saltarello. It was followed up with a pair of Rossini excerpts – an aria each from La donne del lago and La Cenerentola – sung with flair by Alaskan Rossini specialist Vivica Genaux.

But the real highlight of the evening was the Proms premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies’s Roma amor. Composed in 1997, it is, at 37 minutes, one of the longest pieces of contemporary music most Proms-goers are likely to hear this year. Yet the audience was thoroughly captivated by its sprawling evocation of Rome through the ages and Max got a warmly rapturous reception when he came up to the stage to receive his applause at the end.

The piece was inspired by Davies’s return, after many years’ absence, to the city where he had been a student in the late 1950s. In three movements, it depicts on the one hand the abject cruelty that seemed to break out on Roman soil every few centuries – from Imperium Romanum to 20th Century Fascismo – and, on the other, the nobility and ancient grandeur of the Eternal City. The work’s final moments, replete with trumpet calls, bells and the magisterial Royal Albert Hall organ, brought both strands together thrillingly. Superb.


Tristan Jakob-Hoff is a freelance music writer, critic, and a  contributor to The Guardian. He has been a fervent Prommer for the last six years, and can be found every summer in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall arena, looking slightly faint...
 
Image: Chris Christodoulou