Prom 65: Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester / Nott / Matthias Goerne
Prom 66: Nash Ensemble / Masson / Hilary Summers / Claire Booth - Royal Albert Hall, 4 September 2009
Radio and TV Proms broadcasts can offer a very different experience from the live performance, and I don’t just mean in the most obvious way. Technical ‘enhancement’, especially with vocalists, can change the sound entirely.
Take Matthias Goerne in the first Prom of Friday night. On the iPlayer, the first few seconds of his performance are just as I experienced it in the Royal Albert Hall. He sounds distant, muffled, subdued. Then suddenly – switching to a closer mic? – his voice is thrown into crystal clarity, riding above the orchestra. The experience is like being in the first few rows of the Wigmore Hall. The tiniest vocal inflexion tells. It is clear that his Kindertotenlieder cycle was not the half-hearted, under-projected sketch that it seemed from halfway back in the Arena, but a minutely-nuanced portrait, all the more shattering for being drawn on such an intimate scale. Which is the ‘real’ performance? And are the BBC flattering the performers, maximising the broadcast audience’s enjoyment, or simply being dishonest? I’d love to know what standards are applied, and what the BBC are aiming for.
The broadcast couldn’t quite capture the soul of Ligeti’s Atmosphères in the same way, mainly because its dynamic contrasts are so vast. It starts from nothing, but halfway through there’s a buzzing like a billion flies, so loud, so overwhelming, it seems to draw in the walls around it. Jonathan Nott steered the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester expertly through its microtonal textural complexities. Scrappy and tentative playing made Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces and Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra less convincing orchestral experiences
The late night Prom celebrated the 80th birthday of George Crumb, a composer who has slipped under the radar in recent years. The treated piano, megaphones and whale sounds had a sweetly dated air – and surely the accompanying theatrics of masks and movement and offstage playing were designed for a more intimate space than the Royal Albert Hall. But the unassertive playfulness of Night of the Four Moons, Vox balaenae and Ancient Voices of Children - all fortyish years old - spoke of simpler (and better?) times.