This Prom brought a programme that explored love and loss. Brahms’s Tragic Overture is believed to have originated in an aborted project to stage Goethe’s Faust, with material salvaged to make this concert work. Nathalie Stutzmann’s shapely and vibrant presentation kept the action flowing with little tendency to wallow into despair; a fiery start to the concert.
Although Wagner completed Tristan and Isolde in 1859, it wasn’t premiered until six years later. Taking every opportunity to stimulate interest in his music-drama, he stitched-together the score’s bookends. With the cellos as one at the start, this promised to be as polished as the Brahms. It was not. Leaving aside the unwarranted getting-louder after the pauses in the opening bars (marked pp crescendo, but this was too much), the handful of tempo-changes that Wagner demands were translated by Stutzmann into constant rubato, and the orchestra became less unanimous, the build-up to the crushing fortissimo out of control. The Liebestod (no singer) fared better, though the hairpin at the end (the surrounding music is marked pianissimo) was not welcome.
Like it or not, Stutzmann had a clear picture of how Mozart’s final/left-unfinished manuscript should go. Natural trumpets, bassett horns and hard-stick timpani gave a ‘period’ feel. Sudden changes of tempo, in particular slowing down, painted the text in an unexpected manner, which surprised and eventually delighted. The show-stealing chorus and soloists (singing from memory) kept their eyes firmly on Stutzmann. Every phrase was perfectly finished, and every corner properly turned, for all the changing tempos. The ‘Agnus Dei’ (which Süssmayr claimed as his own) earnestly and dramatically pleaded for everlasting peace, and an eye-wateringly speedy ‘Domine Jesu’ gave way to a tremendous ‘Sanctus’ with a final ‘Osanna’ that took off at a lick and ended in a heartbeat.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms