BBC Proms 69: Mozart’s Requiem. Pygmalion, Raphaël Pichon; 7 September 2023.


Since quite a lot of Mozart’s Requiem was written by someone else, it has attracted a long series of musicologists and conductors convinced that they could do a better job of completing it than Franz Xaver Süssmayr. I rather feared when Raphaël Pichon and his ensemble Pygmalion promised “an alternative vision of Mozart’s Requiem” that we were in for yet another alternative completion. In fact this was altogether more interesting, interspersing the movements of the Requiem with much lesser-known pieces from earlier in Mozart’s career, often lovely and striking in their own right, and foreshadowing ideas from his great final work.

Thus before the first movement we had a sequence of minor pieces: a choral canon, an early version of the Masonic Funeral Music and a re-texted Kyrie in D minor, throughout which it seemed as though the Introit and Kyrie of the Requiem was gradually taking shape in our mind’s ear. The Dies Irae was preceded by a movement from the incidental music to Thanos, King of Egypt, fitted with religious words, occupying a middle ground between the Last Day and the arrival of the Commendatore in Don Giovanni. Before the Hostias we had a contrafactum of the Adagio from the Gran Partita with an added choral part, its “rusty squeezebox” accompaniment leading smoothly into that of the ensuing Requiem movement. Most evocative of all was what followed the Lacrimosa: the fragmentary fugal Amen which Mozart probably intended for this position but of which he only wrote a few bars. The silence which followed its abrupt fade-out was infinitely more powerful than the laboured completions which feature in some alternative realizations.

With the exception of the Lacrimosa itself, of which the opening eight bars were given in the form in which Mozart left them without Süssmayr’s accompaniment, this was otherwise the familiar version of the Requiem. The performance style was anything but familiar though, emphasizing Mozart the operatic composer, with extreme tempi and dynamics bringing the drama vividly to life. I have always thought that it was Verdi who came closest to evoking the idea of the Last Judgement; after this performance I may have to revise my opinion. In other hands the crescendi and ritardandi might have seemed overdone and mannered, here they seemed all of a piece with the concept as a whole, Pichon making a virtue of the brevity of Süssmayr’s Hosanna with a swift and agile reading. The period instruments of the Pygmalion ensemble brought an added immediacy to the sound with raw and muscular tones, matched throughout by incisive and committed singing from a superb chorus of around 35 voices.

Of the soloists, Alex Rosen brought clarity and sonority to his Requiem numbers and drama to the motet Ne pulvis and cinis which preceded the Dies Irae. Beth Taylor channelled her inner Kathleen Ferrier for the beautiful Kirchenlied “O Gottes Lamm”, which really should be in every hymnbook. Sandrine Piau (standing in at short notice) and Laurence Kilsby completed a well-balanced vocal quartet. And boy-treble-of-the-moment Malakai Bayoh sang the second of the Five Solfeggios (in fact the Christe Eleison of the C Minor Mass up a tone and minus the words) with admirable assurance and smoothness of line. It fell to him to open and close the concert with In Paradisum, sung unaccompanied to the traditional plainsong, and at its second appearance echoed in Tavener-like canon by the sopranos of the chorus, making the whole evening seem like a requiem for Mozart himself.

William Hale.

BBC Proms 2023 – PROM 70. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Domingo Hindoyan (conductor) Nobuyuki Tsujii (piano) 8th September 2023

Nobuyuki Tsujii.jpegThe centrepiece in this penultimate night in the 2023 Prom season was Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. Almost a series of fiendishly difficult cadenzas linked by orchestral interludes it’s one of the most notoriously challenging concertos in the repertoire.

And Nobuyuki’s rendering of it was utterly remarkable on every level. He played the very long first movement cadenza – all those crazy chords – with hunched intensity and passion. I admired the beautifully delicate, almost tentative pianissimo in the final recap too. Then he sailed into the wide vistas of the adagio and gave us a nicely negotiated transition into the finale. It was a terrific performance.

Blind from birth, Tsujii had to be led on and off the platform by Domingo Hindoyan. I have absolutely no idea how you would even begin to study “Rack 3” (or any other concerto for that matter) if you can’t see the music and then, in performance can’t see the conductor. But Tsujii has clearly found a way because he carries it off magnificently. No wonder the audience was rapturous at the end. Every single hand clap was richly deserved because it felt as if we’d witnessed a miracle.

The other high spot in the concert came after the interval in Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story complete with six percussionists plus timps, extra wind, hand clicks and shouts. I haven’t seen this played live since, years ago Kent County Youth Orchestra did it and, of course, it’s an excellent choice for a youth orchestra because its exuberance is great fun and they have all those extra players freely available. I suspect it’s too costly to get many professional outings. RLPO, though, is evidently now very strong and ambitious under its new conductor, Hindoyan who carefully brought out every rhythm and melody in this ultra-dramatic music and everyone left the hall humming.

The evening had begun with Honneger’s tone poem Rugby which was played with lots of incisive jollity and colourful work especially from trombones and tuba. And the second half opened with the UK premiere of Gabriela Ortiz’s Clara which is a homage to Clara Schumann in five movements. The fourth movement which depicts Robert’s state of mind was especially evocative with mysterious, troubled string work with tam-tam and other percussion interjections.

It was, however, the Rachmaninov which moved me most – an extraordinary performance by an extraordinary man.

Susan Elkin




(Photo – R Carter)

Over recent years the breadth of music included throughout each season has greatly expanded. As part of the ongoing mission of the Proms, to make quality music available to a large cross section of society this is to be applauded. The capacity audience, including the number of true promenaders, was testament to that.

This was the first half of a double bill presenting the two “Want” albums (originally released 2003/4) by the combined forces of the acclaimed singer-songwriter (and multi-instrumentalist) and the BBC Concert Orchestra under Sarah Hicks’ brilliant direction.

Rufus seemed very much at ease as he presented each song, sometimes with humorous introduction, sometimes seamlessly moving from one song to another. This evening, for too short a time I was allowed to enter into Rufus’ world. His voice is remarkable. Unusually operatic for someone operating in the world of popular music, his wide range and ability to project and sustain brings an unusual depth to the music. His music encompasses a range of popular styles with influences from the classic musicals to blues and jazz. Beautiful and often unpredictable melodies are employed as well as sometimes hard to define rhythms. Instruments are employed to maximum effect, from the stripped back piano or guitar only accompaniments or the addition of delicate, shimmering strings, isolated tuned percussion or strident brass.

Songs ranged from the heartfelt Natasha to the gently satirical Oh what a world. A variety of topics and extremely varied styles sit together on this album.

For me there was a notable interplay between the magic – moments like the shift from monochrome to colour in The Wizard of Oz – and the humanity of the songs. Some were poignant, many asked questions, but my overall impression was that they are a celebration of life.

Orchestra and singer worked so well together. RW made much of the importance of Sarah Hicks’ direction and also paid tribute to the players and the arrangers. This was a wonderful showcase for the Proms and for the power of music and its ability to connect and to transport.

Stephen Page

BBC Proms 63, Aurora Orchestra, Nicholas Collon, September 2023

The Rite by Heart
– A dramatic exploration of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring
– Igor Stravinsky The Rite of Spring (from memory)

A packed Royal Albert Hall greeted me for this evening’s Prom, and in a very different style from the usual fare. The stage had been painted white and was dotted with boxes of various sizes whilst not a single music stand was to be seen – the latter, part of Aurora Orchestra’s trademark approach of performing from memory – and what a piece to attempt the feat.

The first half was dedicated to a theatrical interpretation of the genesis and creation of the work with actors Karl Queenborough and Charlotte Ritchie in turn taking the parts of Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Nicholas Roerich (the original production designer) and Vaslav Nijinsky, the choreographer. Using excerpts from extant correspondence between them and with conductor Nicholas Collon acting partly as a narrator, partly as musical director, this cleverly weaved together the various branches and personalities in the story. I was particularly impressed by the seamless choreography from various members of the Aurora orchestra, moving about the stage in different combinations and forces, playing various illustrative passages. Coupled with projections and lighting for further effect, this was a fascinating introduction to the piece, pitched perfectly for everyone from the non-musician through to those who have made the subject their life’s study.

After the interval, the main event: The Rite of Spring from memory. Here Collon took a more traditional approach: players in the usual orchestral positions, conductor on a podium – and with no distractions from additional effects, complete trust was placed in the material and the players’ ability to perform it – and my word, they delivered.

Freed from the constraints of seating and uncluttered by music stands I was immediately struck by an alertness and clarity I have never heard before from such a large ensemble. The removal of the safety net of having the music in sight gave a sense of an edgy danger, heightening the impact of the ferocious attacks, complex rhythms, searing solos and taut pianissimos – exactly the right feeling for the piece.

Standing ovations, in my opinion, are given out far too freely but tonight’s performance deserved it in abundance – I have never heard so raucous and rapturous a reception at the conclusion of a concert, increased further after the encores of two sections with the players coming into the audience space, positioning themselves at random in the aisles and promenading space, giving the audience a flavour of being in the midst of the orchestra, ‘the best place in the world’ as Collon put it.

There is much hand-wringing and many column inches expended on the future of classical music. If this is one of the forward directions, that future is in very good hands.

Lucas Elkin

BBC Proms 59,Tonhalle-orchester Zurich, Paavo Jarvi, Augustin Hadelich 30th August 2023


You can rely on Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak to sell seats. Royal Albert Hall was as full as I’ve ever seen it and there was quite a queue for returns when I collected my programme from the press desk. And all these 5,000 or so concert goers were in for a terrific treat – not just the enjoyment of dear old favourites but hearing them played by this crack Swiss orchestra with all the immaculate precision of a Swiss clock.

Paavo Jarvi’s approach to very familiar music is to present it in a new way but without ever resorting to gimmickry. Thus Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 in E Minor, “From the New World” came packed with beautifully balanced contrasts in the opening Adagio-Allegro Molto. We heard every brass and woodwind detail but never did it overpower the strings who were unusually seated with cellos between first violins and violas. Seven double basses (upstage right) were noteworthy too for striking sectional unity, their sound impeccably blended. The adagio was played with loving tender warmth – every cadence delivered compellingly – and the yearning, soulful timbre of the cor anglais solo in this performance will stay with me for a long time. This is, of course, a Big Symphony, and I liked the way Jarvi let all the brass interjections, especially the tuba, bite though the texture in the final movement which came at a cracking pace.

Before the interval Augustin Hadelich gave us a memorable account of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and is clearly at one with Jarvi on wanting us to hear its joyful majesty afresh. I especially liked, for instance, the unusual speed of the crescendo leading up to the cadenza which Hadelich then played with such contrasting measured deliberation that you could hear, and waited for, every single harmonic which meant that you could also “hear” a very attentive audience listening too which was quite special. The trills with the flute after the cadenza were another high spot in a performance which brought masses colour and warmth along with bravura.

And Hadelich’s sparky rendering of his own arrangement of Howdy Forrester’s Appalachian Tune, a series of ever more complex variations with lots of short glissandi rather neatly took us across the Atlantic in preparation for Dvorak.

The concert had opened with Beethoven’s 1822 overture The Consecration of the House – the least familiar item on the programme. Although I don’t think this is Beethoven at his most inspired (written to commission in a hurry for the opening of a theatre when he was rather busy with the late quartets and the Missa Solemnis) it was an appropriate choice for an orchestra whose history is associated with a concert hall. Moreover, it incisively set the tone for the evening. Anyone who wasn’t initially paying attention certainly would have been the moment s/he heard the dramatic timing of the opening chords, the crispness reinforced by the hard sticks on the timps.

At the very end of the concert after the Dvorak, the orchestra played The Herd-Maid’s Dance from Hugo Alfven’s The Mountain King to ensure that the delighted audience went home with dance in their feet and tunes in their heads. I heard more than one person singing snatches of Dvorak at South Kensington Underground Station afterwards.

Susan Elkin