Proms 35 & 36: BBC Philharmonic/Storgårds; Glamorous Night – review

Royal Albert Hall, London

The BBC Philharmonic's final appearance at this year's Proms was a hefty affair: a programme lasting almost three hours, containing three Nordic symphonies, conducted by the orchestra's new principal guest conductor, John Storgårds. Sibelius's most elusive symphonies, the Sixth and Third, framed the programme, but received rather awkward, effortful performances in which nothing seemed to follow naturally from what had come before. The sense of organic development so intrinsic to Sibelius was lacking altogether in Storgårds's readings.

The accompaniment to Grieg's Piano Concerto – Steven Osborne the fluent soloist – was distinctly ordinary, too. But it would have taken something rather special to bring life into the faded rapture of Delius's Cynara, another forlorn revival for the composer's 150th anniversary, though as usual Roderick Williams's singing of the setting of Ernest Dowson's poem was a model of taste and tact. Per Nørgård's three-movement Seventh Symphony provided the novelty. Completed in 2006, it is dominated by an array of 24 tom-toms, whose interventions steer the work from one tumultuous thicket to the next, as ideas, some very striking, jostle to be heard. Even the central slow movement threatens to turn into more of the same, and the effect is of a superabundance of invention that never quite comes into focus.

The late-night concert that followed was devoted to Ivor Novello. Glamorous Night was a whistlestop tour through the highs and few lows of the career of the Welsh-born composer and actor. Simon Callow supplied the narration, while soprano Sophie Bevan and tenor Toby Spence suavely tackled a selection of Novello's songs, with support from Mark Elder and the Hallé. There was too much Callow and not enough music in the first half hour, but eventually a coherent portrait emerged – of a prodigiously talented composer, whose music and glitzy lifestyle remained forever rooted in the romantic escapism of the Edwardian era in which he had grown up.

• Available on iPlayer until 16 August. Prom 36 will be shown on BBC2 on 12 August.

• If you're at any Prom this summer, tweet your thoughts about it to @guardianmusic using the hashtag #proms and we'll pull what you've got to say into one of our weekly roundups – or leave your comments below.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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