Guy Dammann 

Proms 2012: week eight in review

Guy Dammann: Seth MacFarlane brings out the battlers, the Broadway solo with added vavavoom and did you see the size of Mahler's hammer?
  
  

The closing weeks of the Proms are traditionally dominated by the visits of prestigious foreign orchestras; this year is no different, with not one but two top-notch German bands, each with two concerts, taking their places on the Albert Hall stage – fitting, really, given that the old place is really an architectural tribute by one German to the memory of another. Nor did the Berlin Philharmonic's Wagner, or the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra's Mendelssohn and Mahler disappoint, but – on Twitter at least – it was Saturday's television broadcast of the rather humbler credentialed John Wilson Orchestra and their Broadway Sound gig that attracted the buzz.

Reviewing the concert (live at the RAH on 27 August), Michael Billington enjoyed very much hearing "the real sound of Broadway, alternately strident and soulful", but was less sold on the performance of Hollywood star Seth MacFarlane, whom Billington found to have "a bland baritone of the kind you associate with luxury hotel lounges".

"Where are these 'luxury hotel lounges' with baritones of the calibre of Seth MacFarlane?", quipped Mactel49 below the line, where he was joined by others less inclined to pull their punches. "What nonsense. Seth MacFarlane was easily the best performer on the stage", complained Rob Hares.

On Twitter, meanwhile, much of the talk was of Seth's Guys and Dolls partner Anna-Jane Casey, whose tap-dance routine contained something extra for the weekend. "Just a heads up", she tweeted before the broadcast, "that in the 'encore' of the prom, I almost show my vajay when I do a stagy kick … put small kids to bed now."

The manoeuvre impressed @AnneVosser, for one, who exclaimed "Love a good tap routine!! Esp when @AnnaJaneCasey shows her vavavoooom! #bbcproms". But whatever v-word you choose, the BBC cameramen – and they tend to be men – were circumspect in their lens angles, "so you retain your modesty (or some of it)", confirmed @jonathanhas1. @ChrisRhydderch, meanwhile, aimed his gaze higher, or lower: "@AnnaJaneCasey LOVED the Prom concert!! As a tap dance teacher I take my hat off to you, that tap routine was sensational!!!!"

Sunday night's focus was on a more manly apparatus, that of Mahler's "hammer of fate" employed to famous effect in his Sixth Symphony. "I was astonished", tweeted @RoeDent, "when I first saw a 'Mahler hammer'. I was expecting like a DIY hammer. That thing is HUGE!"

Others couldn't contain their excitement, particular the Times' @nfmusic, who, on seeing the picture of the tool sent round by @Gewandhaus, declared himself to be "even more excited about Sunday night's Mahler now I know THOR'S ACTUAL HAMMER is being used by the @Gewandhaus". Reports of hammer-envy spiralled long into the night. Luckily, though Freud may offer no cure for this particular condition, Bell Percussion Ltd do, for a mere £35 + VAT.

Reviewing the concert for the Guardian, Andrew Clements was knocked for six, not by the hammer but by the musicianship of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and their director Riccardo Chailly, in producing "one of the most remarkable Mahler performances I've heard". Equally remarkable was the afternoon's solo organ display from Cameron Carpenter. It's one thing hearing Bach on the hall's recently restored instrument, felt Clements, but quite another to hear the D Minor Chaconne mangled up with the finale of Mahler's Fifth. "The results are just grotesque", he said.

Though managing without Carpenter's Freddie Mercury-tribute costumes, the Berlin Philharmonic were equally concerned with pushing boundaries in their first concert, which besides the Wagner consisted of some unusual fare, for them at least. Commenting on the menu of Ligeti, Sibelius, Debussy and Ravel, Erica Jeal found that "all the works gained something from [the orchestra's] fastidious attention", even though "it's a cliche to say that this stuff needs to sound impressionistic, but this was a touch too much in focus".

This was too much for Fritzl, who, commenting below the line, wished that "critics would stop perpetrating the myth that Debussy was a musical 'impressionist', as it was a term he very much disliked when it was applied to his musical work". There followed one of those pleasingly arcane and edifying discussions to which we are frequently party on the Guardian's reviews, to which opus147 contributed the thought that "the orchestration of Jeux just isn't subtle enough to withstand the kind of thorough cleaning the BP gave it."

On Twitter the buzz was less constrained. "Amazing" said @buntms. "Amaaazing", bettered Hatty Haynes. @moran_matthew, on the other hand, could only stammer out "Berlin Philharmonic at the BBC Proms. I said, Berlin Philharmonic at the BBC Proms. Otherwise lost for words."

It's a funny thing, with Twitter, or with comments under reviews for that matter, that if you really are lost for words, you have to bother saying so. Otherwise you might be mistaken for, I don't know, someone who keeps their responses to themselves. And with the week ahead, which includes more distinguished visitors from St Louis and Vienna, a chance to hear John Adams conduct a semi-staged performance of Nixon in China, and capped by the dreaded/beloved spectacle of the Last Night, please don't feel tempted to keep yourself to yourself.

Previous Proms weeks in review

Week seven

Week six

Week five

Week four

Week three

Week two

Week one

 

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