It might be argued that Daniel Barenboim’s 16-hour series represented enough Wagner for one year at the Proms, but since Tannhauser had never before been heard there – and since that is Wagner’s most serenely beautiful work – no further justification was needed for the performance by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin.
The opening scene in which Robert Dean Smith (in the title role) makes his escape from the clutches of mezzo Daniela Sindram (Venus) wasn’t helped by the fact that she so splendidly out-sang him: there was no beauty in his tenor tone, let alone any trace of heroism. But the work soon sparked as the shawm-player accompanied the song of the shepherd boy – delivered with crystalline purity by the Israeli soprano Hila Fahima – with the pilgrims’ chorus coming in gently with the reprised theme of the overture. From then on the flow of Wagner’s inspiration continued magically unbroken.
The singing knights were strongly cast, with the Estonian bass Ain Anger providing ballast as the swaggering Landgrave, and with Christoph Pohl’s Wolfram making irresistibly persuasive interjections; Smith’s performance, meanwhile, grew steadily in power and conviction. Under Donald Runnicles’ direction the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra met its challenges impeccably, and one seldom hears a chorus to match that of the Deutsche Oper's with its dark, clean, brilliantly-focused sound. But the star performance of the evening was Heidi Melton’s Elisabeth. You could sense the house holding its breath each time this young American soprano delivered an aria, so perfect was her sound, and so refined her artistry; her duet with Pohl, with the pilgrims’ chorus in the background, was beautiful beyond words.
Chamber Prom 4, by trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth and her all-girl brass ensemble tenThing, was a joyful blast from start to finish. This glamorous and articulate player had initially formed her group as an antidote to her career as a soloist, and initially it was ‘just a gimmick’. But they soon realised they were onto something worthwhile, and at the Cadogan Hall they proved it. The virtuosic possibilities of four trumpets, three trombones, a bass trombone, a horn and a tuba are considerable, as Blaze, Diana Burrell’s new piece for them, indicated, even if it was a rather charmless showcase. But everything else in their programme worked a treat: piano pieces by Grieg and excerpts from Carmen and The Threepenny Opera all arranged by Jarle Storlokken made a swinging hour. Catch Helseth playing solo in Prom 48.