The Organ

BBC Prom 11

BBC Prom 11
21st July

This Prom brought the audience a delectable and entrancing selection of French music from three notable composers.

The start of the evening's programme, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy, was one of the quietest beginnings to a Prom I have ever heard. This, however, was in keeping with the mysticism and ethereal quality of the piece as a whole. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales displayed admirable control of dynamics, tempo and resonance, and brought the subtleties of the work to light.

Following this was Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor. The cellist, Steven Isserlis, cut an imposing figure on stage, and his playing was similarly impressive. The work allowed Steven to explore the full range of the instrument, including the oft-neglected lower octaves, and the tone and timbre of his playing enabled the music to soar out regardless of the larger acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall. The tone was doubtless aided by the glorious richness of his Stradivarius. He played with emotion and gave an intimate rendition. The start of the work was flighty and sudden, and that feeling of movement and pace continued throughout the rest of the piece. By casting the music as a single movement separated into three parts, the momentum and flair of Saint-Saens' composition is never lost. The orchestra played empathetically and with precision, providing a natural and high-quality accompaniment to the cellist throughout.

After the interval, two works by Gabriel Fauré were performed: firstly, the Cantique de Jean Racine, a Proms first; and secondly, the Requiem. The BBC National Chorus of Wales and the National Youth Choir of Wales created a large and impressive presence on stage, and their rendition of the Cantique was evidence that the fine tradition of Welsh choral singing continues unabashed.

During the Requiem, the magnificent Grand Organ, played by Jane Watts, added a beautiful extra element to the work, and the part was played with feeling and charm. Both orchestra and choir made excellent use of dynamics to add emotion and passion to the work. All of the four choral parts were equally strong, and each was given its chance to shine, although Faure appears to have favoured the tenor line in terms of variety. And, because they were singing from memory, there were no interruptions or distractions from page turning.

The baritone soloist, Russell Braun, gave a clear and intimate performance of the Offertorium and the Libera Me, whilst the very self-possessed young treble William Dutton left the audience spellbound with his pure rendition of the Pie Jesu. The contrast between these two voices was mirrored by the choir, with the light and ethereal Sanctus counterbalanced by the passionate and deep Agnus Dei. As the final notes of the In Paradisum died away, the audience was left wanting more.

Thierry Fischer conducted with control and sympathy, and ensured that each section of the choir and orchestra gave their best performance. The Prom was performed with style and grace, and the beauty of all four pieces shone through.

Jonathan Kendon
Kathryn Taylor