Classic FM Hall of Fame Concert

Mozart: Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro”
Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
Beethoven: Symphony No.6 (Pastoral)
Arvo Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Gibbons
Daniel Hope (Violin)

Reviewed by: Jason Boyd

Reviewed: 27 September, 2000
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

To listeners of Classic FM the Hall of Fame will be a familiar expression. It could be viewed as classical music’s answer to the UK pop-chart, with the exception of it being an annual event rather than a weekly one, and having the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach as top contenders as opposed to Steps, Westlife and the Spice Girls. The concept of the Hall of Fame was launched back in 1996 and offers a yearly snapshot of Classic FM listeners’ favourite music. Once all the votes are compiled the final chart is produced just before Easter, leaving Classic FM’s team of producers the unenviable task of fitting three-hundred works into a 45-hour countdown, which is broadcast from dawn till dusk on Easter Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It is much more now than an annual chart having spawned a daily radio programme, six CDs, a book and, this, the first Hall of Fame concert.

The overture to a comic masterpiece, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, found the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of John Gibbons taking a rather quicker tempo than I’ve heard before – one that did much to increase the vitality and musical humour of this curtain-raiser. Moving on a century or so to the English countryside and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s rapturous The Lark Ascending with 26-year-old Daniel Hope as soloist. Hope, having already garnered a number of awards, delivered with control and confidence. Hope, technically secure, sounded each note and trill with great clarity and near-perfect intonation. At times he was a little overwhelmed by the orchestra – despite his expressive movements, little could be heard of the violin.

Closing the first half was Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Given the Pastoral’s five-movement design, it did amuse me how many in the audience clapped after the first movement only to be left wondering what piece of music the second and subsequent movements were. Apart from this minor lapse in listening etiquette this was a well-received performance – Gibbons infused much emotion into proceedings. One might question though the RPO’s lack of double basses, which afforded less than ideal foundation. This, combined with heavy upper strings, created an unbalanced sound – an animated, enjoyable performance nonetheless.

The second half started with Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror), a wonderfully sublime creation by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, highly regarded for his contemplative composition. “I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played,” Spiegel im Spiegel, for violin and piano, exemplifies Part’s view – uncomplicated, simple yet beautiful and ethereal. Pianist Simon Mulligan joined Daniel Hope to play a technically simple piece – yet this does not make it easy. Both instruments are openly exposed, and all attention is focused on the quality of tone created. This rendition was a little too slow for my liking, and although this piece is dreamlike, I do not think it is intended to send you to sleep; more movement would have been welcome. I also feel that this was the wrong atmosphere and venue for such a work to be properly appreciated. I found myself sitting nervously on my seat just waiting for the next cough to disturb the stillness, completely destroying any concentration or emotion evoked by the music.

The climax of the evening was Max Bruch’s First Violin Concerto. This was the perfect opportunity for Daniel Hope to show his ability and virtuosity – he did so with flair and panache – and the last movement was played with fiery intensity.

Call me a purist but I do feel that the Hall of Fame is an attempt to bring classical music to the masses by making it appear somewhat hip. The lighting display is a case in hand, using different colour displays and at times swirling lights (God help us – ED). Schoenberg said: “If it’s for everyone then it’s not art, and if it’s art then it’s not for everyone”. While that is perhaps an extreme view, and I would certainly want more people to listen to classical music, a certain amount of education is needed to avoid it being misunderstood or moulded into something that it isn’t. That said, Classic FM is doing a wonderful job bringing serious music to more people and breaking-down long-held misconceptions about such music (yes, but more silence between items and more complete works would be even better – ED). Proceeds of this concert were going to the Masterclass Charitable Trust, which aims to bring music in both education and daily life to all.

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