18 AUGUST 1939, Page 17

MUSIC The Promenade Concerts

SIR HENRY WOOD entered upon his forty-fifth season of promenade concerts last Saturday after the packed audience

had performed their usual ceremony of acclamation, graded in as nicely calculated a crescendo as a conductor could wish for, from a generous mf for the earlier arrivals in the orchestra

through a rousing forte for Mr. Beard to a thunderous fiff possibile at the appearance of Sir Henry himself. With his usual gusto and efficiency, and his usual punctuality—the first part of the programme ended precisely at the scheduled hour, allowance having been exactly made for the preliminary ceremonies—he conducted the usual miscellaneous pro- gramme.

But was the programme so usual? Would not an earlier Promenader, say Mr. Nigel Clarke, returning after twenty-five years' absence, have rubbed his eyes- when he read the names in the programme—Elgar, represented by his most austere composition ; Rachmaninoff, Delius, Kodaly and Vivaldi? Our

imaginary revenant was accustomed on a Saturday night, above all on an opening night, to the " 1812 Overture," the Inter- mezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, and the Peer Gynt suite.

What were these outlandish names doing here, and that difficult

Meistersinger Overture at the wrong end of the programme? And, although one might point out that Delius's Intermezzo was merely replacing Mascagni's, that Miry 7dnos was only a

different kind of picturesque suite, and Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody a contemporary example of the virtuoso

tradition, that, in fact, plus ca change, plus c'est la mime chose, yet there is this difference, that the musical quality of most of the works in this programme is on a higher level than was usual on a popular night in the early days of the "Proms."

Not that, as a programme, this was a good programme. It lacked the ballast of a central work of some weight, and we were hustled from pillar to post, from Elgar's aristocratic string- writing to Handel coarsely vulgarised, and from Delius's brooding melancholy to Kodily's roaring laughter. But Sir Henry Wood knows what goes. He knows that this audience will be stirred by the clatter, and so will not notice the musical ugliness of his alarums and excursions in " Sound an Alarm."

And let it be understood that the objection is not to the modernisation of Handel's score—Handel himself would have sounded the alarm as vividly as possible with brass and drums—but to the thick and heavy texture of this version.

He knows, too, that Vivaldi means nothing in particular to the Promenaders, but that the spectacle of four soloists fiddling away will fetch them. Is not Bach's Concerto for four piano- fortes, which with bated breath I venture to pronounce one of his least inspired compositions, among the most popular works in these programmes?

In effect, the Promenade Concerts are the apotheosis of the attitude towards music, as towards the other arts, of the plain Englishman whose aesthetic creed is contained in the old parrot-cry: I know nothing about music (or painting or poetry), but I know what I like. And it is Sir Henry Wood's genius for divining what the plain man likes, or can be led to like, that has made the Proms what they are—the most successful concerts in the world—that is, if success may be measured by the standards of quantity and en- durance.

It is no use criticising these concerts, then, by absolute standards. As examples of programme-making they are often deplorable, presenting either an indigestible mass of music of one kind or a badly mixed miscellany whose choice is dictated by a desire to put in something to suit all tastes. And, since

the plain man does not care twopence for the niceties of performance, but does need to have the salient points under- lined if he is not to miss them, it is useless for the sophisti- cated listener to expect fine polish or to grumble that there is as abundant a use of italics and heavy type as on the front page of a popular newspaper. But if he will go to these con- certs in a spirit of humility, which will do no harm to his intellectual pride, and substitute a hearty appetite for a too nice taste, he will find as much profit and enjoyment as any of the plain men in this vast anthology of the classics with its liberal admixture of contemporary works. And, after all, during the performance of some outrage upon Handel or Bach that is past bearing he can always slip out for alleviation