The beginning of the 2014 BBC Proms season was also the end of an era, as Roger Wright officially ended his time in charge. Rather than go out with fanfares however, Wright’s final night was all muted glow and quiet nostalgia.
Elgar’s oratorio The Kingdom is a work that refuses to live up to the stature of its large forces. The beauty of this choral “slow movement” is all in the detail, and here Andrew Davis gave its ebbing, swelling textures every care. Fine work from massed BBC choruses and the BBCSO carried the narrative, while soloists offered us the foreground emotions – soprano Erin Wall’s generous vocal warmth set against Catherine Wyn-Rogers’ Mary Magdalene, bracing and declamatory.
If Prom 1 was all about subtlety, Prom 2 was all sensation. The China Philharmonic made an enthusiastic, if occasionally a little anonymous, Proms debut with a programme of classical favourites. Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Elgar were all dispatched efficiently, but the evening’s highlights were the two concertos. Trumpeter Alison Balsom found real musicality among the wriggling semiquaver challenges of Qigang Chen’s Joie éternelle, while Haochen Zhang gloried in the agility of Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. A second encore of variations on God Save the Queen caught the Proms spirit, and belatedly found the wit that had been lacking elsewhere.