Wednesday 24 April 2013

Birthday Boys at the Proms

Brunnhilde (Arthur Rackham 1910)
(Arthur Rackham 1910)
Proms Preview: Anniversaries are usually a time for rediscovery and reflection, but with this year's centenarians (Wagner, Verdi and Britten), there is perhaps less to discover. At this year's Proms each is getting rather different treatment. We get nearly all of the major Wagner canon (Der Ring, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal and Tannhauser). At one point in the season this approaches wall to wall Wagner, non-believers should keep away. And, of course, you can always listen at home rather than suffer six hours confined to a seat in the Albert Hall.  And the balance might be better on the raidio as conductors struggle with Wagner's huge orchestras let out of the pit. Verdi gets only a token presence with the Four Sacred Pieces and selected arias with Joseph Calleja, rather than the chance to re-discover one of the lesser known operas. With Britten we are treated to Glyndebourne's semi-staged version of Billy Budd plus an extensive voyage round the composer's non-operatic works with some intriguing items.

But there is another centenarian, Witold Lutoslawksi, and here we do get to do some re-discovery with a handful of his major orchestra works including the cello concerto and the piano concerto plus some smaller ones. Also there is other Polish themed music, with works by Panufnik (whose centenary is next year) and Szymanowski.

Two figures get the centenary treatment out of turn, Granville Bantock and Michael Tippett. And I can't complain about either. I look forward to hearing the group of Bantock orchestral works at the Proms and hope it triggers an interest in doing more. And the prospect of Tippett's A Midsummer Marriage is a complete delight.

Of the anniversaries being celebrated Wagner gets the lion's share. Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin bring The Ring with a cast based on Barenboim's Ring cycles at the Staatsoper in Berlin. This is the first complete Ring cycle at the Proms, Barenboim's first Ring in the UK and the cast includes Nina Stemme as Brunnhilde, Lance Ryan as Siegfried, Simon O'Neill as Siegmund and Anga Kampe as Siegliende. (22, 23, 26, 28 July) There is plenty to admire about these performances, its just that I have that slightly disappointed feeling that something a bit more imaginative wasn't done for Wagner's birthday, rather than simply wall to wall Wagner.

Because, that's what it is. In addition to The Ring we have Parsifal from Mark Elder and the Halle, with Lars Cleveman as Parsifal and Katarina Dalayman as Kundry with Robert Holl as Gurnemanz. The latest instalment in Elder's superb traversal of the Wagner canon with the Halle (25 August). Tannhauser combines the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with the Chorus of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, conducted by Donald Runnicles, both groups of which Runnicles is chief conductor. The cast includes Robert Dean Smith as Tannhuser and Heidi Melton as Elisabeth (4 August). Tristan und Isolde sees Semyon Bychkov conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus with Violeta Urmana as Isolde and Peter Seiffert as Tristan, A terrific prospect (I have great admiration for Urmana's Isolde), but it comes sandwiched between Siegfried and Gotterdammerung so I do wonder if we might be in danger of Wagner Overload (27 July).  Finally the Wesendonck Lieder with Anna Caterina Antonacci, with Yannick Nezet Seguin conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic.(22 August)

Verdi gets far less stage time. Sir Antonio Pappano conducts his other ensemble, the Orchestra and Chorus of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome, in an all Verdi programme which includes the String Quartet and Four Sacred Pieces (20 July). Then Joseph Calleja and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, conductor Xian Zhan perform Verdi arias (5 Sept). And that's it. No complete opera. I would have least expected the Proms to put together a performance of one of the rarer Verdi pieces, Jerusalem perhaps or I Masnadieri (which was actually written for London).

With Britten we get Billy Budd in the annual visit from Glyndebourne Opera with Jacques Imbrailo in the title role, Mark Padmore as Catain Vere and Brindley Sherratt as Claggart. Sir Andrew Davis conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra (27 Aug). But there are a number of Britten's non-operatic works in the programme. His early masterpiece A Boy was Born is performed by the BBC Singers and the choristers of the Temple Church conducted by David Hill (3 Sept), the Four Sea Interludes are at the First Night (12 July), the Building of the House is at the Last Night (7 Sept). In between there is the Violin Concerto with Janine Jansen and Paavo Jarvi conducting the Orchestra de Paris (1 Sep), Ian Bostridge is the tenor soloist in Les Illuminations with the London Symphony Orchestra in a Prom which was intended to be conducted by Sir Colin Davis and will now be a memorial (20 Aug). Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem is performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Ades (17 July). A Proms Chamber Music concert is devoted to Britten with the first two Canticles sung by James Gilchrist and Christianne Stotijn, plus A Charm of Lullabies and Songs from the Chinese. The pianist is Imogen Cooper, the guitarist Christoph Denoth (29 July). Prelude and Fugue and Phaedra, with Sarah Connolly accompanied by the Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Sian Edwards are at a Proms Saturday Matinee (3 Aug). With Barry Douglas and Camerata Ireland playing Young Apollo and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge at another Proms Saturday Matinee (10 Aug). So all in all, quite an interesting voyage round Britten.

Another anniversary is Witold Lutoslawski (who was actually born the same year as Britten). There are four substantial orchestral works in the programme. His wonderful Cello Concerto, a work dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, is played by Paul Watkins with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Ades (17 July), Symphonic Variations and the Piano Concerto are performed by Louis Lortie and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Antoni Wit play the Concerto for Orchestra (23 Aug). Plus a number of smaller works: Paroles tissee sung by Ben Johnson with Paul Watkins conducting the English Chamber Orchestra (24 Aug), Partita for violin and piano played by Vilde Frang and Michail Lifits (15 July), the Variations on a Theme of Paganini pop up at the Opening Night (12 July)

A nearly anniversary is that of Andrzeu Panufnik whose centenary is next year, his Lullaby and Tragic Overture are included in the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra's Prom (23 Aug). Let us hope that this is just a pre-cursor for lots of Panufnik treats at next years Proms!

Granville Bantock (1868 - 1946) does not have a major centenary, but we are being treated to five of his works running as a thread through the Proms. None of the big works get an outing, nor the innovative choral symphonies (written for chorus alone). But there is the Celtic Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo (21 Aug), Pierrot of the Minute with the BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth (31 July), Sapphic Poem with cellist Raphael Wallfisch and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Jac van Steen (24 July), Sea Reivers at the Last Night(7 Sep) and Witch of Atlas with the London Philharmonic ORchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski (30 Aug). Though its a shame that a way could not have been found to extend the Sapphic element and include the lovely settings of Sappho poems that Bantock wrote.

Michael Tippett (1905 - 1998) also gets the centenary treatment with a strand of his works. The Concerto for Double String Orchestra and The Mask of Time Fanfare No. 5 in the London Symphony Orchestra's Prom (20 Aug), Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli with Camerata Nordica conducted by Terja Tonnesen (31 Aug), The Midsummer Marriage with Sir Andrew Davis conducting the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra with a terrific cast which includes Paul Groves as Mark, Erin Wall as Jenifer, Peter Sidhom as King Fisher, Ailish Tynan as Bella, Allan Clayton as Jack and Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Sosostris(16 Aug) and Symphony No. 2 with Oliver Knussen conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. (1 Aug).

Further information from the BBC Proms website. Further coverage of this year's Proms on this blog, see my article on contemporary music at the Proms. Elsewhere on this blog:

1 comment:

  1. Great review, thanks. Exciting news about Britten is also that Camerata Nordica performs a World Premiere of Britten´s Elegy for Strings on the 31st of August.


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