Arts and Entertainment

First seen as part of a 1912 double bill, Ariadne auf Naxos was revised and reshaped as Europe plunged into the carnage of the First World War. Strauss was profoundly relieved when his son, Franz, was declared unfit for military service. But his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, had already served as a reservist when the now familiar version of their backstage comedy on high and low art premiered in Vienna in 1916, four days after the assassination of the prime minister in the dining room of a hotel a few minutes' walk from the opera house.

Prom 64: Berlin Philharmonic ORchestra/Rattle, Royal Albert Hall, London

Rattle returns to a love-in

Sydney admits taping performance

China caused international uproar when it asked a photogenic girl to mime a song at the opening of the Beijing Games – but it turns out it was only following Australia's example. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has admitted its stirring performance for the 2000 Olympics was pre-recorded. More galling for Sydneysiders is that parts of the backing tape were recorded by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – the city's cultural arch-rival. Libby Christie, the director of the Sydney orchestra, said two were required because of tight deadlines and a "mountainous workload". Live performances were ruled out because Games organisers "wanted to leave nothing to chance", she added.

Prom 37: Gothenburg So / Dudamel, Royal Albert Hall, London

The witching hour arrived long before the finale of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. The amazing Gustavo Dudamel made something uncommonly spooky of the opening of Ravel's La Valse, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra's worming bass woodwinds curdling the harmonies in the most furtive ways imaginable. From my seat in the Albert Hall, it was almost impossible to make out the tune from the harmonies, so subversive were they. But when the waltz did take hold, Dudamel's technical assurance in shaping the sweep and swoon of it was almost as impressive as its final disintegration was shocking.

Philip Hensher: My take on the great vibrato debate

Roger Norrington's performance of Elgar's first symphony at the Proms created some uneasy mutterings among the audience. And he has said that, if the orchestra agrees, he is going to perform the composer's first Pomp and Circumstance march at the Last Night in the same way. In the symphony, Norrington asked the orchestra not to use vibrato, a technique undoubtedly used in performances of Elgar since recordings began, and probably since the piece was first performed. Norrington, however, said that for the first time, the symphony had been performed "as its composer intended".

Prom 12: CBSO/Adès, Royal Albert Hall, London

Thomas Adès' leviathan of an orchestral piece, Tevot, surfaced between the two intervals of this three-tier Prom. But in the true sense of its Hebrew title – meaning, "places of safety" – it drew into its safe haven the huge audience that Mussorgsky and Borodin had lured into the hall. Tevot is that rare thing among contemporary works – in sound, it belongs resolutely to the early 20th century; but in spirit, its immediacy is very much of the here and now.

Album: Beethoven, Symphonies 1 and 9 Berliner Philharmoniker (Deutsche Grammophon)

Claudio Abbado's 2001 performances in Rome with the Berliner Philharmoniker has made it into a boxed-set with a re-edited version of their Berlin recording of No 9.

Album: Mahler/Cooke, Symphony No 10 – Wiener Philharmoniker/ Harding (Deutsche Grammophon)

In the interview that accompanies this recording of Deryck Cooke's performing edition of Mahler's Tenth Symphony, Daniel Harding bridles at the notion that older conductors have the advantage in this repertoire, most particularly in music written at the end of the composer's life.

Preview: UBS Soundscapes, LSO St Luke's, London

An explosion of sound as two worlds collide

Album: Armstrong, Memory Takes My Hand – BBC Symphony Orchestra/Walker (Virgin Classics)

Portentous and banal, "Memory Takes My Hand" is the least interesting of the three works here. Not even Lucy Crowe can make Peter Arnott's lyrics intelligible at the tessitura chosen by Craig Armstrong, and the BBC SO treads water in a score that sounds as though Carl Orff had been reincarnated as an ambient composer.

BBC SO/Davis, Barbican, London

The world premiere of Tsunami by Dominic Muldowney (the second recipient of the Elgar Bursary for mature composers) registered barely a ripple. Here was a highly experienced theatre composer working with a significant poet, James Fenton, and a charismatic actor-singer, Philip Quast. But Tsunami, played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis, patronised the popular styles to which it alluded.

Berlin orchestra may force Rattle to drop the baton

The Berlin Philharmonic could part company with its conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, over his programme for 2009, which includes a performance of Stockhausen in an airport hangar.

BBC SO/Knussen, Barbican, London

Alban Berg was in poor shape, financially and bodily, when he accepted the commission for a violin concerto in 1935, and shattered to learn of the death of Alma Mahler's 18-year-old daughter, Manon, of whom he had been fond.

Album: Beethoven, Symphony No 3 – Eroica – Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Manze (AHarmonia Mundi)

Some slippery moments in the opening and closing movements do little to detract from this reading of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony from Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg SO. This is Manze's debut recording as a conductor and though the attack is occasionally clumsy, he succeeds in making the music new. Radical rubato, violent coups d'archets, beautiful woodwind detailing, and a strikingly slow "Marche funèbre" contribute to a sense of freshness and dynamism, while the "12 Contretänze" and the finale of "Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus" illustrate how one modest melody ignited a music revolution.

Bavarian RSO / Jansons, Royal Festival Hall, London

It used to be regular practice among purist critics to deplore the concert programming of Wagner in "bleeding chunks". Actually, Wagner himself extracted passages from his music dramas to use on fundraising tours, even patching his own endings for some of them. And why not, when the presentation, full on, of his scoring from the concert platform can often gloriously enhance sonority and reveal detail lost in pit?

Hallé hits a high note with its first female conductor

Ewa Strusinska, a 30-year-old musician and a rising star in the predominantly male world of conducting, had her "glass ceiling" breakthrough yesterday to become the first female assistant conductor with the oldest orchestra in Britain.

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