Ups and downs

By Stephen Pollard
September 4, 2008

Sorry for the absence of posts. I think I might have run before I could walk with my hand - it's been playing up a bit.

I saw two big events yesterday. One was a huge let down, my initial hope being dashed by a performer who did not come close to matching the early promise, and who was let down by a poor script.

The other was close to a total triumph, looking every bit as good as the hopes placed in the person.

I refer - as if you need me to tell you - to the Berlin Philharmonic Prom and the Sarah Palin speech. And in that order.

The BPO's Brahms was plain awful. The perforrmance under Rattle was lethargic and lacking in any sense of drama or pacing, every bar stretched out for supposed beauty of sound - and a sound which did not have any of the wonderful cultured tone which has, for so long, been the BPO's calling card.

I'm not a Rattle basher, as is fashionable. I think he can be wonderful in the BPO's core repertoire. His Bruckner 7 a couple of years ago lives in my memory and will do for ever. But for some reason his Brahms 3 last night was a waste of time.

I had better hopes for the Shostakovich 10 - surely Rattle's forte. I haven't heard the piece for years - I'm guessing a decade. I've two recordings but have let them sit on my shelves. And after last night, I think they'll stay there. My recollection of the piece was of tense, taught undercurrents with explosions of power. Last night, however, I thought it flabby and overwritten, repetitive and plain dull. The explosions of sound and power I remembered came across last night as just loud noise for the sake of it.

A very, very average concert. Hugely disappointing.

As for Mrs Palin: when I say she hit the ball out of the park I'm not referring to her views (she seems to be a wacko when it comes to creationism, for instance) but her performance made a huge bonus out of her supposed negatives, and her lines about Obama were a bull's eye. I think there are good solid reasons to be pleased about an Obama victory (although many more to be fearful), but to call him vacuous doesn't even come close. He has risen on a surfeit of hot air, good feeling, hostility to the ordained HRC, and a brilliant strategic primary campaign. But Palin punctured all that.

Does it mean she is 'qualified' to be VP? Of course not. But it means she is a dynamic political force to be reckoned with. And what is the necessary qualification anyway, other than election by the people, for the people?

(The best analysis I've seen has been this from Clive Crook.)


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