BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London
Manchester International Festival, Bridgewater Hall / Chetham's, Manchester

With Schubert to die for and a preposterous but sincere choral monolith, the Proms keeps giving its audiences a thrilling ride

Cool and suspenseful, the opening chords of Schubert's String Quintet in C Major (Prom 7) cleared the sweaty, pagan air of the Royal Albert Hall after Myung-Whun Chung's feral reading of The Rite of Spring with Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (Prom 6).

The first week of the BBC Proms was a roar of celebration: loud, louder, loudest. But the Belcea Quartet's performance with Valentin Erben sharpened our ears.

Thomas Mann wrote that this was music to listen to on one's deathbed. It would be a good way to go, held on the pizzicato heartbeat of the second cello, a little in love with the first cello, hero of this wordless narrative. More elastic than on the ensemble's recording, more explicit in its intimation of mortality, the Quintet seemed to sum up Schubert's strength and frailty: the Adagio a timeless kiss, the Scherzo a dance of hollow hedonism, the Hungarian-accented Allegretto a feverish act of resistance before the shattering final cadence.

One intimate masterpiece, one grand folly. Scored for two orchestras, two choruses and four brass bands, Havergal Brian's polystylistic Gothic Symphony (Prom 4) invites accusations of preposterousness. With Mahler's Eighth Symphony as his model, the self-taught Brian, who left school at 12, plundered the polychoral effects of Venice, Russian Orthodox church music and the oxygenated gasp of Tudor polyphony. The result is cluster chords, fugues, densely cultivated banks of divisi strings and a cheeky march for nine clarinets. Above all, there is sincerity: wretched horror at the slaughter of the First World War.

Performed by singers from Cardiff, Birmingham, Huddersfield, Brighton, London and Southend, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Gothic was remarkably cohesive and expressive under Martyn Brabbins's clear, calm beat, with soprano soloist Susan Gritton gently righting the intonation of the chorus in the cruelly high tessitura of the Te Deum. But the qualities that some admire in the Gothic – its scale, its variety – are what its detractors dislike.

Brian spent eight years on the Gothic. Wagner took 27 to complete the Ring Cycle. It seems reasonable to suppose that much of that time was spent in silent labour. Commissioned as a curtain-opener for the Hallé's Manchester International Festival performance of Die Walküre, Gerard McBurney's The Madness of an Extraordinary Plan suggested an alternative scenario, in which Wagner (Roger Allam) only briefly broke off from fulminating to imagine music that – pouf! – appeared fully scored from the baton of Sir Mark Elder. Were composing this easy, anyone with a lunatic sense of their own self-importance could do it.

For those more interested in the music than the man, Madness... was a poor reason for spreading the performance over two days. Every time the Hallé played an excerpt, you wished it would continue. Its Wagner is simply beautiful, and if that burnished lyricism was more glamorous than dangerous in Act I of Die Walküre, the duet with Siegmund (Stig Andersen) and Sieglinde (Yvonne Howard) had a tenderness beyond renegade intoxication. Elder is a skilful accompanist, metering the blend to suit the timbres of his cast, seducing the most limpid, eloquent solo from cellist Nicholas Trygstad.

Susan Bullock's singing has a freshness and wit that conveys Brünnhilde's idealism and innocence – a world removed from the bitter machinations of Susan Bickley's Fricka. Clive Bayley's dour Hunding and Egils Silins's virile Wotan were compelling, the Valkyries a raucous hen party. If Katherine Broderick (Helmwige) can continue to fling out top Cs with such easy brilliance, she seems set to follow Bullock. Between Opera North and the Hallé, the M62 has become a paradise for Wagnerians.

The penultimate Manchester performance of Bach, Berio, Biber & Bartók, Béla drew a small crowd of listeners into the furtive half-light of the Quay Brothers' animations, as Alina Ibragimova played a programme of valedictory chaconnes and passacaglias for solo violin. Berio's Sequenza VIII and Bach's D minor Chaconne unfolds in counterpoint to Expressionist shadows created by strategic up-lighting. In the Biber, she disappears, her music relayed through hidden speakers. Finally, Bartók's Sonata accompanies a film that revisits many of the themes in the Quay Brothers' In Absentia (2000). As ever, Ibragimova plays with excoriating passion.

BBC Proms (845 401 5040) to Sept 10; Alina Ibragimova, Wilton's Music Hall (020 7638 8891), Mon to Wed

Next Week:

Opera Holland Park's Rigoletto takes off. Anna Picard will be there

Classical Choice

Roger Norrington gives a historically informed performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London (Mon). Ears will be health-checked at the door as Vignette Productions' post-apocalyptic La Bohème sets Puccini's opera in the style of 28 Days Later, Village Underground, Shoreditch, (Tue and Thu), West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (Sat).

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor