Saving the best till last, the Proms gave us two brilliant nights with the Vienna Philharmonic, first under Semyon Bychkov’s inspired and meticulous direction with symphonies by Brahms and Franz Schmidt, then under Simon Rattle’s direction with Elgar’s Gerontius.
The Wagnerian roots of this Roman Catholic affirmation of faith were made plain as Rattle extracted a magnificently spacious account of the Prelude; the pianissimo entry of the massive BBC Proms Youth Choir was a magical moment. Toby Spence delivered the title role with a beautifully-projected sweetness of tone, while Roderick Williams as the Priest brought baritonal warmth; Magdalena Kozena’s over-busy hand gestures were initially distracting, but when she settled into her role as Angel her singing radiated a majestic earth-mother stillness. Everything in Rattle’s sculpting of this intricate work came triumphantly together in its ecstatic close.
Opening with the premiere of a deft little tone-poem by Eleanor Alberga entitled Arise, Athena!, the first half of the last Prom was dominated by a scintillating performance of Shostakovich’s second piano concerto by Benjamin Grrosvenor, after which it was all fun and games. Grosvenor played stride and boogie, Jonas Kaufmann sang Puccini, Danielle de Niese put sex into The Sound of Music, and Marin Alsop made a worthy but anodyne speech about music versus inequality.
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