Handel's Partenope, a tribute to the MGM musicals, Bernard Haitink's 80th birthday, Purcell's Fairy Queen, Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, a celebration of Cambridge University's 800th anniversary and a weekend commemorating the 75th anniversary of the deaths of Elgar, Delius and Holst are just a selection of the concerts on offer at this year's BBC Proms.
Visits by international orchestras, such as the Royal Concertgebouw under Mariss Jansons, the Leipzig Gewandhaus under Riccardo Chailly, and the Vienna Philharmonic under Harnoncourt and Mehta, are contrasted with a Bollywood extravaganza, a complete performance of Handel's Samson and three performances from Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The latter includes a complete performance of Beethoven's Fidelio in concert, with a rare UK visit from Waltraud Meier as Leonore, Simon O'Neill as Florestan and Sir John Tomlinson as Rocco. Barenboim will also lead the orchestra in the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.
The birthday composers are well served. In addition to Partenope and Samson, Handel is represented by a massed-choir performance of Messiah, four of the Coronation Anthems, arias from several of the operas and excerpts from Music for the Royal Fireworks. Glyndebourne's production of The Fairy Queen comes to the Proms in a semi-staging, while other Purcell works are showcased in a Chamber Prom and on the Last Night. Mendelssohn does particularly well, with the symphonies, the Violin Concerto and the First Piano Concerto. Of note here is the Halle's performance of Symphony No 2, Lobegesang, with its extended choral movement. Haydn, too, is celebrated, but perhaps less extensively so than might be the case, given his enormous output. Still, The Creation should be a highlight, with soprano Rosemary Joshua joining Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort, as should the Manchester Camerata's performance of The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross.
Contemporary music is as well served as ever, with a wide range of world and UK premieres. Louis Andriessen's The Hague Hacking is played here for the first time, as are the revised version of Rebecca Saunders's traces and Schnittke's Nagasaki, while Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies are also represented. As ever, the Proms are branching out, too, with an evening devoted to seventy-five years of the MGM musicals with Sir Thomas Allen and Kim Criswell and a special day celebrating the music of Bollywood.
All of Stravinsky's ballet music will be performed – perhaps an unnecessary move, since the pieces are regularly performed in both concert halls and in their original balletic settings – as will Tchaikovsky's piano concerti. Martha Argerich will perform two concerti in the same programme, and there's a slightly crazy ‘multiple pianos' day featuring a large number of pianists including the Labeque sisters. More unusually, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will make their Proms debut.
On the whole, it seems a strong season, with a much greater range of international artists than the recently-announced Edinburgh Festival. That said, it's noticeable that the BBC's own orchestras are padding out the season to an extent, particularly in August, and the famous Last Night is rather low-key, with David Robertson conducting and Sarah Connolly as the vocal soloist. As noted above, it's also disappointing that only three of Haydn's symphonies are featured in his anniversary year, and the reliance on Mahler, Shostakovich, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies is a sign of safe programming. Nevertheless, it's reassuring to see that in these difficult times for the arts, the Proms show no signs of dropping their artistic standards.
Photos: Bernard Haitink and Daniel Barenboim
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