Proms 16 & 17: CBSO/Nelsons; SCO/Boyd | Classical review

Royal Albert Hall, London

Taking a break from the Bayreuth festival, where he is conducting the new Lohengrin, Andris Nelsons came to the Proms with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Wagner, in the shape of the Rienzi overture. It's the piece with which he opened his official tenure as the ensemble's music director two years ago, but he makes more of it than a calling card; more, too, than the rabble-rouser it can descend into in lesser hands. Flawlessly presented here, its thematic material sounded genuinely distinguished, yet the electric charge of Wagner's first theatrical showstopper flowed at high voltage.

Paul Lewis joined the orchestra for the second of Beethoven's piano concertos as part of his complete cycle. His technical command was absolute, and, with orchestra and conductor supplying an accompaniment as notable for nervous energy as finesse, the results were exceptional.

So, too, was the final work, Dvorák's New World Symphony. With material so familiar, any successful performance has to capture the freshness of first acquaintance as well as a mastery only realised through experience. Balanced to a nicety and conveyed by Nelsons with comprehensive conviction, this account was also notable for some silky-soft string playing, which had the audience reaching forward with their ears to grasp it.

More Dvorák followed in the late-night event, in which members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra were led by Douglas Boyd, replacing Sir Charles Mackerras in a programme designed to play to the late conductor's strengths. The Czech composer's Wind Serenade went beautifully, with music-making of charm and crispness. The Mozart Gran Partita followed, needing sharper definition and shapelier phrasing, though the work's inventive richness still came through.


George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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