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 & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
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 iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit