Prom 5, Prom 4, Prom 6, Prom 7, Royal Albert Hall, London

When London was a darker place to be
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The Independent Culture

The previous night, I avoided the tropical microclimate of a capacity audience and listened to Antonio Pappano conduct Die Walküre on the radio. Even in my kitchen, the electricity in the Royal Albert Hall was palpable, and I should imagine the same was true for thousands of domestic listeners. Were any proof needed that the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House is one of the greatest in the world, this was it.

Having heard the first performance of this run, it was fascinating to hear the last. The cello solo of Act I was ravishing; Lisa Gasteen (Brünnhilde), Waltraud Meier (Sieglinde), and Rosalind Plowright (Fricka) fearless. Placido Domingo, making his Proms debut as Siegmund, was, if anything, in even better vocal form, while Bryn Terfel, though audibly exhausted, gave the kind of performance of "Wotan's Farewell" that is the stuff of legend, regardless of genre. The last time I heard a singer invest that much meaning and daring into their words was also at the Proms: Anne Sofie von Otter singing "Scherza infida" from Handel's Ariodante. In both cases, such extreme freedom - akin to jazz - would be impossible without a superb accompanist. Still, von Otter and Terfel dig deeper than the majority of their peers. Much as I've been moved by other artists, very few have passed the Sarah Vaughan test. And if you don't know what I mean by that, order a copy of her last album, Crazy and Mixed Up, and listen to "You are too beautiful".

Which, to the exasperation of those readers who prefer abstract music, leaves barely a few lines to commend Osmo Vanska, Stephen Hough and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on their performances of Thea Musgrave's eloquently structured Turbulent Landscapes, Rachmaninov's First Piano Concerto, and Nielsen's Fourth Symphony. Vanska is a conductor with tremendous bounce and verve but here he played against type in a performance notable for precision and poise. The same evening's Late Night Prom of Haydn by John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, and the English Baroque Soloists was predictably divine, despite soprano soloist Luba Organásová's idiosyncratic articulation in the Nelson Mass.