24 SEPTEMBER 1948, Page 13


THE Proms ended on Saturday night, in a traditional orgy of crooning and hand-clapping, applause and mutual compliments. It was a successful season by all accounts (I deserted at half-time) but my own observation, and the same "accounts," suggest that the standard of performance sank on occasion so low that only the rosy- spectacled Prom audiences would have tolerated it. A very high standard of performance for vast programmes played nightly during seven to eight weeks is, of course, impossible, but our faces must be set dead against the fatal egalitarian principle of allowing standards to drop in proportion as audiences become larger and are drawn from an increasingly wider public. I attended concerts at which the conductor was either virtually unacquainted with the music or else unable to grasp its nature and structure, while the orchestral playing was unbelievably slipshod. The B.B.C. must really recon- sider some of its choices or the Proms will really become " popular " concerts in the old pejorative sense and will certainly cease to do honour to the memory of their founder. The Ballets des Champs Elysees gave an experimental ballet with- out scenery or music on Monday. It was entitled La Creation and represented the slow genesis of a ballet in the mind of a choreo- grapher. The omission of mt,iic was a mistake if only because its place was taken by other, extraneous noises—squeaking shoes creak- ing boards and the shuffle or thud inseparable from the shifting of large solid bodies however well trained and elegantly manoeuvred. Jean Babilie as the Choreographer contributed the atmosphere of emotional tension presumably hiseparable from the act of creation in any medium and though 1 found it hard to follow the meaning of is sudden leaps and his man-handling of his puppets, the whole was executed with marvellous grace and was obviously full of meaning to him. His Ideal—and I found this very interesting and revealing—was Leslie Caron, an exquisitely finished but sinisterly cold danseuse (why must dancers choose sexually ambiguous names ? or why is there no feminine of "dancer" in English ?). Other danseuses represented his Uncertainty, Temptation and . Idea and these abstractions seemed to assume alarmingly human, all-too- human roles, though here again I found the emotional thread as difficult to follow as the abstract designs. It was, of course, by definition a dancers' ballet and certainly the cast seemed to under- stand what they -.Were doing and so. perhaps, did almost fifty per cent, of the large audience who applauded vociferously at the end. I understood La Sylphide only too well. Such a period piece might conceivably come off on an enormous stage, with period sets of the most lavish description and a genius of a prima ballerina. As it was the performance was cramped and bedraggled and the orchestral playing made me look forward impatiently to La Creation.

At the 56th Concert of French Music in the Wigmore Hall ori Tuesday the Loewenguth Quartet played the string quartets of Faure and Roussel. Faure's quartet was his last work, written when he was 75 and over, and finished almost on his deathbed. It has an extraordinary density of texture and unity of mood and, as often happens with the music of great composers in their old age, it seems to be a kind of distillation of ideas and inventions which have been spread in a more diluted form over the works of the last twenty years. There are echoes of Penelope and the late song cycles, Mirages and L'Horizon Chimerique, but the music moves in a more rarefied atmosphere and Faure's caressing phrases have long since ceased to have palpable figures of flesh and blood for their object. Roussel's quartet is not one of his most interesting works, although it is admirably written for the medium and the third movement particularly has that robust rusticity which is rare in French music and peculiar to Roussel. Jacques Jansen gave a very poor performance of La Bonne Chanson and of Roussel's Odes Anacriontiques. His intonation was frequently questionable and he seemed copy-bound to an extent which made any real interpretation of the music virtually impossible. Cannot French singers learn their songs ? Or do English audiences inspire them with such an extreme