First Night: The Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London

Sprawling but all highly essential celebration of
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The Independent Culture

Certainly not the swashbuckling Berlioz overture, "The Corsair". Guest conductor Sir Roger Norrington got the BBC Symphony Orchestra to produce some of the most vivid, fleet-footed playing this band had delivered in living memory. There was an early-music touch about the strings which felt a bit mean in tone for the big romantic melodies but the overriding character was pace and verve.

However Norrington does it is presumably down to rehearsal tricks, since his flamboyant gestures and podium ballets are a legendary distraction. Any TV viewer who thought he was playing to the camera can be assured he's exactly the same when the only audience is in the hall. The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto was equally lithe and exact, with an eager collaborator in the soloist Janine Jansen. The whole performance proved you don't have to be loud to compel attention.

After that the concert's character changed. This concert had been dedicated to the memory of last week's bomb victims and Norrington managed to be eloquent without losing his sense of proportion. Elgar's overture "Cockaigne", he said, seems to celebrate the sturdiness and tolerance of London. Well, yes, though this celebration is of a Cockney capital that probably never existed and certainly doesn't now, an East End without Brick Lane or the views of city skyscrapers. Happily the music transcends all that, while full of artful detail, its delivery was unexpectedly staid. Nothing understated about the Tippett. It is a complex, troubled and humane oratorio - tracts of ingenious but non-descript grey and sudden bursts of light.. The biggest moments were settings of five spirituals, which the BBC Symphony Chorus sang with a compelling single-mindedness.

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