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Proms 2009: Prom 32 – Dolly Suite \ Faure \ Lutoslawski \ Meredith \ Britten Sinfonia

August 9, 2009

Tea, cake and a promIs there something wrong with me? The season I look forward to all year round is well underway, with concerts stretching out before me and the promise of a holiday at the end of it too. So on that basis shouldn’t I be busting a gut to get to the Royal Albert Hall for every single concert?

The pull of the hall is sometimes great. So too an underlying tension between wanting to be there for every event and wanting to spend some time outside of that Proms related bubble. All of us live in fear of that radio-listening experience when we hear an amazing performance and wish we’d been there in person. Or, as one season ticket holder put it the other night – the immense disappointment experienced when we stand in the arena and listen to something we really know deep down we could have listen to at home or possibly on iPlayer.

The key to all of this is imagination. What’s appealing – especially on a Sunday afternoon when the air is thick and cats doze paralysed on decking – is imagining the interior of the Albert Hall when you’re listening to a programme of music which must surely have been put together by a radio producer who’d had a thought in the bath one night last year. That thought might have gone something along the lines of “what we need is some sort of afternoon in front of the bandstand type thing, with lots of perky music, lots of big tunes and some electrifying virtuosity. The kids who aren’t interested can play football in the park behind whilst the parents sit and dose. They’ll bring picnics with cucumber sandwiches and cake and flasks of hot tea.”

I suppose what I’m saying is that I rather wish I’d have come up with the idea. Laying out on the sofa listening to the orchestration of Faure’s piano duet Dolly Suite (the orchestration is nowhere near as good as the original duet – far too mushy for my liking) and the Labeque sisters play Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos, somewhere in the back of my mind I had this thought that what would be really nice for this concert was a mug of steaming tea and a slice of cake. It was a Sunday afternoon thing. I wanted to indulge my middle class fantasies and see whether the reality was anywhere near as good.

There was Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals to look forward to at the end of the second half after all. I wanted tea and cake for that.

But what cake? My eyes fell on the words “lemon cake” in the book I’ve started reading this weekend – House at Riverton – and soon after that I’d leapt to the kitchen and located the necessary ingredients.

I’d chosen the right place to listen to the concert. The Albert Hall was an image in my head as Anna Meredith’s premiere of a piece inspired by a car indicator light played out through the digital radio in the corner of the kitchen (it’s definitely worth a second listen – a cacophony of sound which like so much of the good new music this season was way too short). Sarah Walker’s interval feature about pianists who play duets was charmingly engaging (the Labeque sisters’ anecdote about their one time neighbour Dirk Bogarde was pretty amusing too) and the Lutoslawski Paganini Variations an refreshing alternative to Rachmaninov’s overly familiar and now poppy version.

Come Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, the lemon drizzle cake with lemony syrup soaking its way through the sponge was almost ready while the scotch egg pasties made for a week of early evening pre-Prom snacks cooked in the oven. The Saint-Saens was better for being played in front of a live audience, something I’ve not heard before. Up until now I’ve only ever heard it in studio recordings devoid of any atmosphere. The thought of the Albert Hall conveyed by the ambience and the occasional cough made for a considerably more appealing experience. Hardly surprising I felt rather smug come the end of the concert staring at a cooled and ready to eat cake and four pasties. Nice work.

Listen to the Sunday afternoon concert (be sure to have tea and cake at hand) on iPlayer. First half good, second half better.

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