The Organ

BBC Prom 66/67

BBC Prom 66/67
3rd September

A visit from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is always an occasion and an evening with Daniel Barenboim in charge was sure to fill the hall – as it did with scarcely an empty seat. We were not disappointed. If there have been times when the VPO has sounded as if it was coasting this was certainly not one of them. All departments were in fantastic form and balance throughout was immaculate. Schubert's Fifth Symphony brought an unexpected delicacy of sound and a gentleness which managed to fill the space without any excess energy. After the interval Bruckner's Fourth Symphony – the Romantic – allowed the brass to run the full gamut of their professionalism from the merest whispers to full throated passion. String sound was richly full-bodied throughout while the woodwind had a purity of line that cut easily through the weight of sound surrounding them.

But above all it was Daniel Barenboim's handling of his forces and the rapport of conductor and orchestra which shone through. Conducting without a score his relaxed yet highly sensuous approach constantly supported inner detail without ever exaggerating the overall structure and balance. In a strong end to the season this has to be among the finest performances we have heard this summer.

The late night Prom brought the BBC Singers under David Hill, opening with Britten's Hymn to St Cecilia and closing with a fine reading of Scarlatti's Stabat Mater. In between John Scott played seven short works by Buxtehude, opening with the Praeludium in A minor and closing with the more familiar Praeludium in G minor. The Passacaglia in D minor was particularly effective and the introduction of three brief choral preludes gave us a wider range of both dynamic and tone.

While all the music in the programme was valid in its own right the balance was somewhat uncomfortable with the wodge of organ music between the two choral items becoming somewhat indigestible. There was a sense that a number of anniversaries needed to be covered and maybe this one concert was a way of getting rid of three birds with one stone!