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September 6, 2011

Prom 67

By Spear's

Let us not forget the raison d’être of the Proms: to deliver music to a wider audience, not in a Katherine Jenkins kind of way (heaven forbid)

Sadly Sunday night’s performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis was my last Prom of the season. That said if anyone wishes to invite me to the Last Night of the Proms, I will heartily accept. This was the first time I had returned to the RAH since that deplorable fiasco from those demonstrators and it seemed the Royal Albert Hall possessed a renewed spirit of unity.

Let us not forget the raison d’être of the Proms: to deliver music to a wider audience, not in a Katherine Jenkins kind of way (heaven forbid) but to offer music of the highest quality in a more accessible and affordable manner.

I always remember this when I enter this impressive building. Having sung in two productions at the RAH, it is a place I know intimately. I marvel at its magnitude, the hard work of dedicated Promenaders announcing their latest collection for musical charities (now over £70,000) and the presence of the Radio 3 box. I’m easily thrilled. I breathe it in and it fills my heart with hope.

Hope – a word I imagine was part of Beethoven’s raison d’être. I am, by the way, a Beethoven addict and just as we in these troubled times settled to listen to Missa Solemnis, we imagine Beethoven’s own struggle. He was betrayed by Napoleon, a man who he believed would fulfil his moral obligations only to squander his success. He also suffered ill health, ongoing legal battles with his family and daily torment with acute deafness.

In 1820, the midst of his tormet, he was commissioned to write Missa Solemnis for the enthronement of Archduke Rudolph. He grappled with a departure from classical form, something he rigorously believed in, to embrace a spiritual free-flowing style with grandiose dynamics and expression. Words written on the front page of his manuscript read ‘From the heart to the heart’. Yet his torment and disillusion are clearly heard in the rather depressing Agnus Dei which gives way to a warlike Dona nobis pacem. There is a violent war in the peace, movement in the rest.

The soloists and the choir certainly had a gargantuan task ahead of them and they did a superb job. With two huge choirs, the London Symphony Orchestra and Colin Davis at the helm, what a delight it was amid this battle to hear the most exquisite voice from heaven, that of the Finnish soprano Helena Juntunen; her timbre and expression was beyond beautiful and passages sung with the superb mezzo Sarah Connolly were sublime.

Their voices were perfectly matched, even if Helena’s vibrato seemed a little tighter, she was able to lean into the voice to create a pure straight sound, perhaps upon Colin’s request. I simply adored her and not only that, she had a television camera thrust in her face every five minutes which I can tell you from experience is not an easy thing to deal with.

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I am also happy to report that the two singers were beautifully dressed and restored my faith in the sometimes shocking soprano attire.

The American Tenor Paul Groves was very… American, secure and polished, and the British bass Matthew Rose sang with conviction and self-assurance. The choir hardly sat down and some strain did show a tad when the tenors almost shouted “Et resurrexit tertia die” at the end of the Credo. There was also the unusual step of taking the leader of the LSO out of his seat for his solo, delivered with gravitas and solemnly.

It wasn’t the performance to end all performances purely because I don’t think the piece is that stunning but perhaps I don’t know it well enough. Well that is what the Proms is for – to widen one’s horizons. Give me Beethoven over Katherine Jenkins any day, thank you very much.

Watch Prom 67 on the BBC iPlayer

Melinda Hughes

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