The Royal Albert Hall was once again packed for the second concert featuring Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, and again Rattle received cheers when he came on stage at the start.
The programme was somewhat different today, however. Most of the works were numbered sets of pieces of one sort or another. The Prom opened with the one prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s Parsifal (the only one not a countable set). This is quite a slow and tranquil overture, rather than a fanfare to open the concert. It was followed by Strauss’s Four Last Songs, a work quite regularly heard at concerts. Strauss’s colourful orchestration was shown at its best by the Berlin Phil, and soprano Karita Mattila gave the lyrics quite a tender rendition. I can never help wishing there was an orchestral version of the songs, though.
After the interval, it was time for three sets of orchestral pieces, each set by a different composer: Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra and Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra. When he returned to the platform, Simon Rattle addressed the audience briefly to say that when they rehearsed the three sets of pieces, they realised they belonged together as one work, so he asked us not to clap between them. Some Prommers already said this had been discussed at the pre-concert talk. In the event, the “pieces” all sounded of a similar style to me. None contains a tune the audience will be humming on the way home. Whether or not to clap between movements is a perennial debate, but not clapping between new works adds a new dimension. Surely, just as people argue against inter-movement clapping because this interrupts the work as a coherent whole, inter-work clapping is a necessity to mark the end of a work as the composer intended. I feel that running one work into the next damaged their integrity: the opening of the first movement was no longer an opening, and the finale of the final movement was no longer a finale. For anyone who lost count, or was slightly unsure of the programme, it was hard to tell which composer’s work was which, but there was a clue. The colour of the lighting behind the orchestra changed with the work. I don’t know whether they intended this, or whether the lighting design pre-dated the decision to play the pieces as one, but it certainly proved useful.
Despite being more difficult listening, the second half of the concert was well-received, although some people noticeably hadn’t returned after the interval.
Wagner Parsifal – Prelude (Act 1)
R. Strauss Four Last Songs
Schoenberg Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 – 1909 version
Webern Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6
Berg Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6
Karita Mattila soprano
Sir Simon Rattle conductor