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August 20, 2012

Prom 48: Weber, Mahler and Tchaikovsky

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Melinda Hughes is mesmerised by conductor Vladamir Jurowski at Prom 48.

I chose to go to this prom to hear rising star mezzo Alice Coote sing Mahler’s Lieder eines faherenden Gesellen but I got so much more than I bargained for. What an amazing evening of German and Russian Romantic music superbly played by the LPO and conducted by the mesmerising Vladamir Jurowski (pictured above) who is every bit as compelling in the flesh as his stage presence would suggest. The temperament and passion for this repertoire is in the blood and who better to conduct such a programme than a Russian born in Berlin.

The Prom started with the overture from Weber’s Freischutz, an opera which isn’t performed enough in this country (along with Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor) but when I’m artistic director of The Royal Opera House I’ll address that issue.

The overture certainly got us in the mood and out stepped Alice Coote in a stunning deep blue kaftan — a brave move to wear something so untraditional but it paid off as everyone was talking about it and I’m sure it looked marvellous on television.

I always found song cycles more nerve wracking than anything else; the detail and subtlety of the text and the fact that there is less character to hide behind than that of an operatic role, so Coote did a stunning job; vocally secure with a well-rounded tone, giving us daring low notes and soaring crescendos. There were some nice leanings and characterisation in the voice as she sang of pastoral wandering and lost love. In the final song Ich hab’ein glühend Messer in meiner Brust (I have a glowing knife in my heart) a supernatural force seemed to overtake her presenting us with a hugely dramatic climax. This set us on course for yet more otherworldly encounters.

I was unfamiliar with the Tchaikovsky Manfred Symphony in four scenes after a dramatic poem by Byron as I think were many, so what followed in the second half of the Prom had everyone mesmerised. This is Tchaikovsky’s longest work not numbered among his symphonies and it seems there was plenty of personal projection in this haunting and surprising piece. Again there is plenty of Alpine wandering, supernatural encounters, a real sense of doom and even the appearance of the Alpine witch all marked in four greatly contrasting movements. The first movement could stand alone as a piece and its power and drama was masterfully conducted by Jurowski whose real Russian passion flowed through him. He is a clear unpretentious and rhythmical conductor yet in the last movement, as piercing violins marking the death of Manfred after a tormenting tumble into an infernal orgy, Jurowski showed such emotion he seemed on the verge of weeping.

The finale, with its demonic and orgiastic elements, culminated in the fantastic sound of the glorious RAH organ resounding triumphantly through the hall. The audience was ecstatic and Jurowski together with the LPO welcomed a long standing ovation. The black arts had clearly worked their magic tonight.
Read more by Melinda Hughes

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