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).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone