Prom 7, Royal Albert Hall, London
Prom 4, Royal Albert Hall, London
The Elixir of Love, Blackheath Halls, London

With the intensity and detachment of a sleepwalker, a Chopin recitalist strikes the softest notes in the Proms' first week

From Mahler's "Jauchzet auf!" to Wagner's "Wach' auf!" and Verdi's "Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo!", you couldn't move for exclamation marks in the first few days of the Proms.

By Wednesday night, season ticket holders had scaled the Alps, quelled a Genovese rebellion, resisted a Spanish invasion, and witnessed the humiliation of a lovestruck Bavarian critic. Yet it was the quietest notes of the week that most beguiled.

Chopin's Nocturnes do not require exclamation marks. Played by Maria Joao Pires, in Prom 7, they seemed not to need any audience, let alone one of several thousand. These somnambulist arias for solo piano melt into ellipses, their dynamics shaded from the faintest pianississimo to a cool mezzo forte, their mood abstracted. Pires has little interest in performance – a polite bow indicates she is aware of her public. The dialogue is between her and the music.

Delicate but never fey, Pires's E flat major Nocturne (Opus 9, No 2) is a gentle waltz between ex-lovers, its shivering trills explicitly sexual, the F major (Opus 15, No 1) a wistful orchestral sketch. The second Nocturne from the same set has a troubled, furtive quality, while the third vacillates between girlish fantasy and subdued melancholy. In Opus 27, her C sharp minor Nocturne acquired Beethovenian tartness, the D flat major, honeyed warmth. Opus 62 and 72 demand a more extrovert approach, yet here too the bel canto ornamentation was understated, while the Lento con gran espressione became a miniature Requiem. Elegantly shaped and articulated, with the most distinctive response to the colours of individual keys, this was a revelatory, intimate reading.

If Pires wins the prize for the softest notes to be played in the first week of the Proms, Simon Trpceski comes a close second. Monday's performance of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto with Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (Prom 4) was crisp and confident from the agonised gasp of the opening chords to the pellucid arpeggios of the Adagio and the taut, athletic finale. Petrenko is more partner than accompanist in this work, carefully establishing and maintaining dramatic tension through the aching melodies and deft counterpoint. I remain unpersuaded by Mahler's orchestration of Schumann's Manfred overture, but Tchaikovsky's symphony on the same subject was thrillingly realised – all silk and angst and tambourine-shaking demons.

Staged in the round and performed in Amanda Holden's translation, Harry Fehr's pretty, witty production of The Elixir of Love for Blackheath Halls Community Opera propelled Donizetti's romcom into rural 1940s Britain, with a 100-strong chorus of land girls, fire wardens, home guards and schoolchildren, and some bunting, sandwiches and scones for the wedding party. In a neat twist to the first scene, Nicholas Sharratt's Nemorino is a bookish romantic whose copy of Tristan and Isolde is snatched and roundly mocked by Elena Xanthoudakis's Adina – giving her something concrete to regret and him some much-needed intellectual clout.

You can fill a hall with friends and relatives, but holding their attention – from the texting teens to the cognoscenti – takes skill. Fehr's movement direction was excellent, making full and lively use of the hall while not losing focus on the lovers. Robert Poulton's whisky-swigging spiv of a Dulcamara arrived on a bicycle, while US Army Sergeant Belcore (Grant Doyle) had pockets full of sweets to keep the children quiet. Every member of the chorus seemed to know exactly who they were supposed to be, and each one developed with the story.

Despite some unforgiving speeds from conductor Nicholas Jenkins, the orchestra played with style and spirit, with particularly fine work from the flute and harp. The women's semi-chorus, led by Helen Bailey's Giannetta, was excellent. Having promised a furtive tear last week, I managed rather more than one. Xanthou-dakis's transformation from brittle tease to heartbroken penitent was deeply affecting, and Sharrat's Act II aria simply lovely. Elixir was Blackheath's fifth production. At this rate, their sixth will be a must-see.

Next Week:

Anna Picard returns to Holland Park for Verdi's La forza del destino

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project