BBC Proms reviews

Preview: BBC Proms 2011

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

Lang Lang, by now surely qualifying as a ‘Proms regular’, having played here four times, has called the Last Night of the Proms “probably the biggest event on earth for classical music…” and it’s not too much of a stretch to say that this applies equally to the whole season – two months of exceptional concerts, with promming tickets still only £5, and even cheaper if you get a Season Ticket. There are 74 concerts to choose from in the Royal Albert Hall alone, plus 12 at Cadogan Hall, not to mention the daily introductory events at the Royal College of Music and the ‘Proms in the Park’ celebrations.

So, where do you start, and what do we recommend? musicOMH writers include devotees of just about every classical music style and epoch, so this will be a personal choice of what we’re most looking forward to this season. Cannily, the planners have leapt right in with a fabulous, just-cant miss-it first weekend – Friday 15th begins with a new work by Judith Weir, Stars, Night, Music and Light and takes in Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and Liszt’s 2nd Piano Concerto, with Benjamin Grosvenor making his Proms debut with the solo part.

Janáček’s wonderful Glagolitic Mass takes up the second half, and if you’ve never heard this neglected masterpiece now is your chance; the soloists are nearly all Czech, as is the conductor, Jiři Bělohlávek. Janáček specialist Keith McDonnell will review what is likely to be a stirring performance.

Saturday’s concert is no less alluring; Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome, in Rossini’s William Tell. This is a rare outing for Rossini’s work about the founding fathers of Switzerland, and it’s perhaps best known to opera lovers as ‘the one with all those high Cs’ – John Osborn is the ‘lucky’ man to sing them here. The cast also includes Matthew Rose and Patricia Bardon, and the performance begins at 18.30.

Follow that, as they say – and the riches continue with a starrily cast Verdi Requiem on July 24th – Marina Poplavskaya is the soprano soloist, Joseph Calleja takes the tenor part. Robin Holloway brings a new work, his Fifth Concerto for Orchestra on August 4th, teamed with Strauss’ Four Last Songs in which the soloist is Hillevi Martinpelto, and the concert concludes with Brahms’ 2nd Symphony. The BBCSO is conducted by Donald Runnicles.

Mahler’s 2nd symphony takes centre stage on August 5th, with Miah Persson as soloist, the National Youth Choir and the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. Theres another treat for Mahlerians on the 7th, when Edward Gardner conducts the BBCSO in Das Klagende Lied, with yet more starry soloists including Melanie Diener and Stuart Skelton. The evening’s other work is Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D minor, with Christian Tetzlaff as the soloist.

On Sunday August 14th there’s an unusual concert of British music, including Britten’s Cantata Misericordium, Sinfonia da Requiem and Spring Symphony, with Christopher Maltman and John Mark Ainsley among the soloists. The concert begins with the world premiere of Joby Talbot’s arrangement of Purcell’s Chacony in G minor. More Britten on Sunday 21st, with the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, which is followed by yet another premiere, Colin Matthews’ No Man’s Land, and Mozart’s Requiem with Ian Bostridge and Emma Bell among the soloists.

Glyndebourne makes its annual visit to the Proms on the 25th, with its stunning production of Handel’s Rinaldo definitely one not to be missed. On the 28th, there’s another unmissable event for lovers of vocal music Mendelssohn’s Elijah is performed by the Gabrieli Consort & Players, with Simon Keenlyside in the baritone part. Opera gets another evening on the 9th of September, with a rare outing for Weber’s Der Freischtz in the 1841 French version, with recitatives by Berlioz; John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionaire et Romantique: Andrew Kennedy is Max, Sophie Karthäuser sings Agathe.

Finally, the Last Night should be an especially spectacular bash, with Lang Lang giving us Liszt’s 1st Piano Concerto, Susan Bullock the Immolation scene from Götterdämmerung, and all the usual Arne and Parry. If you cant get in to the hall itself, there will be Last Night celebrations in Hyde Park, and ‘live’ showings on BBC Big Screens across the UK. Fêtes and Fireworks!

You can listen to all the concerts on BBC Radio 3 and 24 on BBC television, all accessible for at least a week afterwards on the iPlayer and often repeated later in the season. All details can be found on the Proms website.

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Prom 8: BBCSO/Bělohlávek @ Royal Albert Hall, London
Prom 1: BBCSO/Bělohlávek @ Royal Albert Hall, London