Opera + Classical Music Features

BBC Proms 2007: Week Two preview

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

A jamboree, two substantial sacred works, an opera, two attractive concerts of French music and a premiere – all dishes on the menu as the Proms heads in to its second week.

This is often the time of the season where the BBC orchestras come into their own – and no fewer than six of the week’s concerts will be performed by the Symphony, Philharmonic and Welsh National orchestras.

The appearance of the National Orchestra of Wales in Prom 9 on Friday 20 July is particularly significant, as it marks the first Prom of their new partnership with conductor Thierry Fischer. Fischer comes from the Ulster Orchestra, where he has made appealing recordings of lesser known composers such as Franaix and Schmitt for Hyperion. This concert finds him on more familiar ground, with two works premiered at the Proms – Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the left hand with soloist Roger Muraro, and The Shadows of Time, the Henri Dutilleux cantata premiered in 2003. These form the first half, while Berlioz takes the second with the beloved Symphonie fantastique.

The same partnership returns in Prom 11 on Saturday 21 July, where they will again perform French music – this time with Debussy’s sultry Prlude l’aprs-midi dun faune as the opener. Cellist Steven Isserlis will join them for the attractive melodies of Saint-Sans’ first cello concerto, while the Welsh chorus will perform Faur’s sublime Requiem and Cantique de Jean Racine in the second half.

Proms 11 and 12 occupy the mid-morning slots of Saturday and Sunday, and are under the umbrella of the Blue Peter Proms, Jamboree!. Pretty much anything goes musically here, with the BBC Philharmonic helping the Bollywood Brass Band and presenters Gemma Hunt and Peter Duncan to entertain younger listeners. Arrangements of Happy Birthday, snippets of music on the Romeo and Juliet theme and the Fanfare for the Common Man are promised – though the Proms website doesnt stipulate on which of the two days these works will be played.

From titbits to large scale vocal works – such is the variety of the Proms, and Verdi’s Macbeth, which will be semi-staged as Prom 15 on Tuesday 24 July. This is the production seen at Glyndebourne, with Andrzej Dobber in the title role, Sylvie Valayre as Lady Macbeth and Vladimir Jurowski conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The previous night sees the first visit of the Handel and Haydn Society to the Proms, all the way from Boston and conducted by Sir Roger Norrington. The one work in performance will be Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons, sung in German with soloists soprano Sally Matthews, tenor James Gilchrist and bass Jonathan Lemalu.

The American symphony seems to be making something of a comeback at this year’s festival. Not content with programming two of Charles Ives’s works in the form, the BBC have plumped for another work first introduced at the Royal Albert Hall to English audiences, Aaron Copland’s big-boned Symphony no.3. The triumphant Fanfare for the Common Man that forms the climactic moment of this work will contrast well with the lyricism of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, with James Ehnes taking the solo role. American music specialist Marin Alsop will be conducting the visiting Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday 25 July.

In the late night Prom that same day is a most appealing double of sacred works presided over by Richard Hickox. Schubert’s Mass in E flat is still something of an undiscovered masterpiece, and it’s to be hoped the Prommers will turn out in force to hear a period performance that will feature an impressive line-up of soloists – soprano Susan Gritton, mezzo Pamela Helen Stephen, tenor Mark Padmore and bass Matthew Rose. Acting as a prelude will be the scarcely less appealing Alma, virgo of Hummel, a composer whose melodic gifts are slowly but surely growing on concert audiences.

The week’s chamber concert at the Cadogan Hall will feature James Ehnes again, playing Elgar’s Violin Sonata ahead of his appearance in the Barber concerto on Wednesday. He will be accompanied by Eduard Laurel in a Mozart sonata and an as-yet unknown piece by Aaron Jay Kernis, receiving its first performance.

There’s still time in the week’s schedule for a piece curiously described as a ‘sociological cantata’ by the Proms website, Brett Dean’s Vexations and Devotions. This European premiere is described as ‘striking a blow against reality television’, so it’s to be hoped you don’t have to vote him off afterwards! Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony will be the popular coupling.

Music OMH will be covering six Proms in week two – Macbeth, The Seasons, Thierry Fischer, Richard Hickox, Marin Alsop and finally an attractive program of English works conducted by Andrew Davis, culminating in Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony (Prom 18, Thursday 18 July). If you’ve not attended during the first week of the Proms, there should be something to tempt you here.

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