The Brighton Philharmonic return with their New Year Viennese Gala. Varied as ever and not restricted to the music of the Strauss family of the 1860s and 1870s, Brighton’s own orchestra draws a near sell-out audience to Brighton Dome on New Year’s Eve. Conductor Stephen Bell mounted the podium with a hop, skip and a jump and bounced along in the programme.
The Brighton Philharmonic is growing in strength and confidence, it’s obviously not an international orchestra though a number of the individual players work at that level for their day job. A sparking Die Fledemaus overture opened the concert with glorious woodwind. Ailish Tynan, soprano, was in good voice for the first of several vocal pieces. The woodwind continued to delight, as did the precise xylophonist. Franz Lehár’s Gold and Silver Waltz rounded off the first part of the programme, the strings giving a credible swirl to the sumptuous main waltz tune even in the relatively austere architecture of the Brighton Dome.
Parkour, acrobatics, plyometrics, clownery and some very modern on-stage attitude combined in Super Sunday by Race Horse Company of Finland. Six athletic artistes and their crew won over a mixed Christmas audience with their Contemporary Circus skills and dark wit in this full-length performance at Brighton Dome. Many of the tricks which looked so simple were probably the most difficult to carry off because of the critical timing co-ordination and delicate balance. We saw the human catapults, the life-size teddy bear rocketed to the roof and the acrobatics on teeterboards and trampolines. Their iconic hamster wheel routine, which ended the show, was a triumph from another dimension, the performers working acrobatics within the moving reference and balance of the revolving wheels.
Olivier Latry, the star organist of Notre-Dame de Paris, woke up the mice in the organ of the Royal Albert Hall at the start of his recital with a fairly short version of Khachaturian’s noisy Sabre Dance but his performance showed clearly which direction the recital was heading. His performance style here could not be further from English cathedral organ playing. There was a touch of the swagger of a fairground organ, certainly the bells and whistles (and tremulants and celeste) of a cinema organ. He brought great emotion to the restricted palette of Beethoven’s Adagio for mechanical clock. And blockbuster performances of the two major pieces at the centre of his recital, JS Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on BACH.
A great Proms moment and the end of an era: Bernard Haitink applauds Emanuel Ax and the Vienna Philharmonic after playing Beethoven together for probably the last time at the Proms
I had to ask and look to check whether the piano tonight was the Albert Hall’s usual Steinway Grand because Emanuel Ax played the opening run so delicately it could have been a forte-piano. This was the tone of his performance throughout, ethereal, great delicacy, precision and charm. Hardly a hint of Sturm und Drang.
Maybe my mood was set by seeing the veteran conductor Bernard Haitink walk on stage to cheers from the audience, face beaming though walking with all the difficulty of a maestro now in his ninetieth year; tonight’s interpretation of the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto struck me as much with pathos as with beauty.
Emanuel Ax played softly and delicately, straining the concentration of the audience, seemingly pulling us in to the world of two musicians who have made great music together many many times but who both know this is coming to an end. We were privileged to hear piano playing at the other end of the experience spectrum to “Young Musician”: clarity of interpretation, depth, serenity and poise.
This was one of the really memorable night’s promenading, a privilege to hear Dvořák’s and Smetana’s music close up to an inspired orchestra and conductor. This is Prom 2 but my first this year. The very British queues for promenading as good-humoured as ever along with an equally strong and British sense of turn and order, aided by the redoubtable staffers from the Albert Hall.