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Denis McCaldin's Prom 73 review

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Denis McCaldin Denis McCaldin | 11:20 UK Time, Friday, 11 September 2009

franz_welser_most.jpgHarnoncourt replaced by Welser-Most

Wikipedia begins its encyclopedia entry on Nikolaus Harnoncourt as follows - 'Count Nikolaus de la Fontaine und d'Harnoncourt-Unverzagt (born 6 December 1929) is an Austrian conductor, particularly known for his historically informed performances of music from the classical era and earlier.'  So the announcement on 14th August that he was ill and would not be able to conduct at the Lucerne Festival and today's Prom with the Vienna Philharmonic could only be a disappointment.  Fellow Austrian Franz Welser-Most generously stepped in to take over the programme, replacing  Haydn's Symphony No 97 with No 98 but the fruits of Harnoncourt's work with the orchestra wasn't much in evidence on Radio 3 tonight. 

I thought the performance started well, with a good tempo for the tricky first movement.   On air, the timpani were too plummy - not something Harnoncourt would have sanctioned - but the rest of the ensemble was secure and tidy.  Sadly the last two movements reminded me more forcibly of what we were missing without him.  The minuet was seriously uninteresting, with no characterisation of its the melodic upbeats and the underlying dance rhythms.  The finale seemed rushed, with a similar lack of rhythmic definition and little attention to melodic phrasing.  Perhaps this only goes to show how difficult it is to perform Haydn's symphonies with a large orchestra!  It would be good to know if other people were happier with this performance.

Looking through my post, I was pleased to see that fellow blogger kleines c agrees with me that the Concertgebouw concert (Prom 62) was exceptional.   Like many, I expect he will now be looking forward to the Last Night, when Alison Balsom is scheduled to play Haydn's majestic Trumpet Concerto.  Although it is one of his most popular pieces - and rightly so - its appearance in the programme for the Last Night of the Proms may well be a first!


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks, Denis for the Prom 73 Review..

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 2.

    The general consensus in the hall, Denis, was that Franz Welser-Möst did an excellent job, although it is debatable whether Nikolaus Harnoncourt would have done a better one. The precise impact of a particular conductor on a performance from the 'incomparable' Vienna Philharmonic is difficult to fathom, although your points are well made above, and I, too, agree that the Haydn (#98) could, potentially, have been better played. The ending, in particular, was a little rushed, and a smaller orchestra might well have brought out the finesse of the minuet. The Dutch, in my opinion, had the edge over the Viennese, even if a direct comparison is impossible.

    What first made me post on the BBC Radio 3 messageboards, Denis, was this kind of disagreement over the quality of a particular proms performance five years ago (2004), so I appealed to the wider Radio 3 audience online, in order to find out whether there was any consensus about the quality of proms performances there. Just as professional music critics often rate particularly performances completely differently, so do bloggers and messageboarders. It is also fair to add that the experience of I am no musician, so mine is an emotional reaction to a particular piece, and it was Franz Schubert's Symphony No.9 in C major which stole the show at this particular prom, in my opinion.

    As for the Last Night, I shall be watching on television at home this year, and I, too, am looking forward to seeing Alison Balsom play Haydn's majestic Trumpet Concerto. I should perhaps report that all four composers of the year have enjoyed some fascinating proms performances, and one of my personal favourites was the 'Seven Last Words'.


    Nevertheless, may I just take this opportunity to congratulate all the Radio 3 bloggers on posting such interesting entries about this year's Proms.

  • Comment number 3.

    I have just been reading reviews of the final proms in Monday's newspapers (The Times and the FT), Denis, and I thought that the four composers of the year bloggers might appreciate some more thoughts on the 2009 Proms Season and the Last Night:



    I should just like to say, unambiguously, that I really enjoyed the whole season. I watched the Last Night of the Proms on television with the family, and we all had a really good time.

    Writing in 'The Times', Richard Morrison confirms our doubts about the Vienna Philharmonic's Haydn, Denis. Alison Balsom was more successful with her nimble playing of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto on the Last Night, and I thought that Sarah Connolly was an absolutely stunning Dido, and much else besides. All the best,



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