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Proms 2009: Prom 74 – Brahms 4 \ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra \ Zubin Mehta

September 11, 2009

Seeing the Vienna Philharmonic and conductor Zubin Mehta for the penultimate night of the Proms season this was a bit of a treat.

There’s a special feeling about the penultimate night. It’s not the Last Night, for a start (no, I’m not a snob, I’ve been before, I just haven’t got the energy to queue for a place in the arena and I didn’t even enter in the ticket ballot this year either). The penultimate night really does see the final concert (or concerts) in the season before the party atmosphere and slightly throw away nature of the following night.

Tonight’s early evening Prom was interesting. Just a few minutes of hearing the sweet sound of the first violins and I couldn’t help thinking why it was or how it was that one orchestra like the Vienna Phil could sound so very different from the other orchestras of the season. How did they achieve that sound? Was it really as distinct as it seemed stood in the fourth row of the arena?

How was it that an orchestra could still get away with not having any more than a token gesture of women in it’s personnel list and how was it their mere presence on the stage made me feel comfortable that whatever it was they played it would be good?

Is it marketing? Is the sound of their name? Is it the idea that something foreign will somehow be of higher quality? Was it the glass of merlot I queued ten minutes for and guzzled in three which skewed my perception?

The Vienna Philharmonic is brilliant. And the performance of Brahms Fourth Symphony was brilliant too. It seemed like an effortless performance from the very beginning. It felt at times as though Brahms’ music was its very lifeblood.

Of course, a far more experienced and well-read critic would raise questions Mehta’s interpretation in one of the movements. There would be something which was played too fast, a chord which demonstrated a momentary lapse of judgement or the sequences when questionable ensemble in the strings revealed the egos of some of the first violins for the soloists they were when they weren’t doing their day jobs.

But you can’t concentrate on those piddly little points when the audience is carried along on the kind of triumphant journey Brahms penned in his final symphony.

There may have been a late night Prom (and it’s probably worth listening to on iPlayer) and of course there’s that party to watch on TV the night after, but as penultimate nights go this was yet another fantastic end to the season. A memorable one. One which yielded it’s own party atmosphere at the end in the form of two throwaway polkas. Perfect.

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