I had no intention of reviewing Prom 75, the penultimate night before the BBC Proms ended but how could I stop myself? It was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9: the Choral, which to put it bluntly, is a bloody good symphony.
All attempts to buy return tickets were out-of-bounds and stall seats were still unaffordable. Alas, at such short notice, I ran to the Royal Albert Hall and stood in the proms arena queue just after 2 o’ clock.
When it came to 7 o’ clock, prommers were slowly edging into the stage and there sat above the orchestral stage were the multiple choir members of the Leipzig Opera Chorus, Leipzig Gewandhaus Choir, Leipzig Gewandhaus Childrens Choir and London Symphony Chorus – phew, that’s quite a mouthful.
The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra graciously entered the stage shortly followed by the half Japanese, half American conductor Alan Gilbert.
The first movement’s Allegro ma non troppo was full of sustenance, spirit and precision through our mighty conductor. From the arena below, I felt the sonata’s bass lines from the cellos under my feet and although considered by some to sound like orchestral tuning, the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra knew exactly what they were doing.
The second movement’s Scherzo was just as vibrant and genuine as the first where trombones and timpani unleashed their unique qualities.
Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra played songs that sounded like spring as they calmed down after the calamity in the first two movements. This was portrayed through lullaby-esqe flutes, swooping strings that plucked and soared.
After feeling like we’ve just left a Latin mass, the audience came together in universality with Beethoven, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Gilbert and the choir singers, particularly the red jumper wearing Childrens Choir.
The forth movement was expectantly sturdy, loud and exuberant. The audiences knew ‘Ode to Joy’ too well that they clenched their fist and shook them discreetly to the valiant drums, especially when the skilled ‘angelic voices’ sung ‘Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?’
Christina Landshamer, Gerhild Romberger, Steve Davisliy and Dmitry Belosselskiy’s honey soaked voices put the icing on the cake. Belosselskiy introduced the fugue holding onto every deep note with Davisliy seasoned timber as he moved his body to his joyful voice.
Gilbert was firm, swaying to Beethoven’s music and moving one side to the other.
One moment he’d open his arms wide to the choir singers with a smile and then quickly hunch down to the orchestra with a stern face and hands close together as he directed the violins to repeat the presto piece.
With four call backs from the quartet and Gilbert, and a standing ovation from me, – well, I was already standing in the arena – I don’t believe even half of the people in the Royal Opera House had ever experienced a ‘gooooooood’ Beethoven’s 9th symphony like this, and I mean that in a good way.
[You can listen to the perfomance live here on BBC Radio 3]