Prom 64 (Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle)
Prom 62 (Gustav Mahler/Davis)
Prom 61 (BBC Symphony Orchestra/Belohlavek)
Prom 63 (BBC Singers/Hill) Royal Albert Hall, London

A highly charged performance of some of the most erotic music in the orchestral repertoire is as classy as it is explicit

It was, as my companion put it, classical music's answer to a Barry White album: a programme celebrating carnal desire in all its shuddering, sighing, yearning, yelping, convulsive ecstasy. From the first bold connect of Wagner's Prelude to Tristan und Isolde, through the luxuriant ache of the Liebestod, and on to the celestial dances, starlit arias and interplanetary whoops of Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony, the subject of Sir Simon Rattle's performance with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday (Prom 64) was sex.

Rattle has often been criticised for favouring precision over colour, yet his Wagner was described in the vaguest of gestures. If the ensemble in the first 17 bars was tenuous, and became more so as the music tumbled forward to climax after climax, the sound quality was simply extraordinary. The Prelude can be read as a description of separation; a warning. But Rattle's heady, impressionistic soundworld was an explicit illustration of the two lovers' compulsion to merge into one, his Liebestod a farewell from an Isolde still caught in that moment. Brilliant with the intense sheen of the Berliner Philharmoniker's searing strings, lustrous brass, virtuosic percussion and glowing woodwind, Turangalila had a lyricism that belied the dazzling complexity of the score. Highly disciplined and lucidly argued, beautifully honed in the humid harmonies of "Jardin du sommeil d'amour", minutely balanced in each crazy-mirror configuration of orchestral soloists, this was a magnificent performance from Rattle, pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard and ondes martenot player Tristan Murail.

Speaking of music and sex, I was tickled to see Alex James, erstwhile contestant in BBC2's Maestro, waving the flag for classical music in The Sun, last week. Tchaikovsky was his hot tip for lovers, offering "a different class of shag", while Beethoven was recommended as "cooking music". Crumbs. At 20 minutes duration, Romeo and Juliet is certainly a more tactful choice for the bedroom than Turangalila, a work whose length would make anyone insecure. As to Beethoven in the kitchen, those listening to Monday's broadcast of Sir Colin Davis and Nikolaj Znaider's performance of the Violin Concerto (Prom 62) must have had to wait a long time for supper.

Leaning in to the first desks of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Znaider quietly uncurled his opening phrase as though admiring the properties of the D major scale for the first time. With such exquisite refinement of tone lavished on each note, the structure of the Allegro ma non troppo was inevitably compromised. Yet Davis and Znaider sustained their argument eloquently through the Larghetto, pausing here and there to allow oboe, bassoon and horns to comment, and on into a Rondo bubbling with contained energy. Only in Sibelius's Symphony No 2 was the full dynamism of this orchestra of potential principals released, its rapt, resinous sonority underlining how densely populated by Dvorak's wood-nymphs and water-nymphs are Sibelius's forests.

For all Davis and Rattle's daring, Jiri Belohlavek's performance of Verdi's Requiem (Prom 61) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the Crouch End Festival Chorus demonstrated the value of pragmatism. This was Verdi as you would expect it: crisply delineated, carefully paced, with a "Dies irae" as terrible and isolated as Violetta's anguish in Act III of La traviata. Anchored by John Chimes's subtle timpani, Daniel Pailthorpe's plangent flute and the chorus's responsive and expressive singing, it was a powerful performance, marred only by mezzo-soprano Michelle De Young's vampish delivery of "Judex ergo cum sedebit", which, last time I checked, is neither a curse nor a come-on.

Car crash of the week was the BBC Singers' late-night performance of Messiaen's half-French, half-Sanskrit, pillow-talk babble of mutual enchantment, Cinq réchants (Prom 63), which together with Harawi and Turangalila form his Tristan triptych. Of the 12 singers involved in Messiaen's songs of spiritual and carnal delight, only Siâ*Menna conveyed the joyful delicacy of the melodies. The more overtly sensual the music, the more awkward conductor David Hill's gestures became, and the more self-conscious the choir.

For amuses gueules, the ensemble performed Le Jeune's sportif part-song "Revecy venir du printans" and, with improvised accompaniment from sitar player Nishat Khan, settings of the Song of Songs by De Sermisy and Brumel. Now I've never cared for added noodles in Renaissance polyphony, be they jazz or raga, but to describe this experiment as being as embarrassing as watching a curate shake his booty to Cornershop would be inaccurate. It was worse. There are some excellent musicians in the BBC Singers, but putting singers with heavy vibrato next to singers with none will never produce a lean, vibrant, blended sound of sufficient versatility and suavity to suit 20th-century and 16th-century music equally well.



Proms (020-7589 8212), until Sat

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent