Prom 72: OS di Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Zhang – review

Royal Albert Hall, London
Well-performed operatic chunks couldn't make up for the lack of Verdi in this year's Proms – but the Tchaikovsky was electric

An inadequate response to the Verdi bicentenary has been the principal weakness of this year's Proms. Xian Zhang and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi gave us half a concert of his music in the form of a selection of overtures and arias, the latter sung by tenor Joseph Calleja. But this is only the second evening of the season in which Verdi's work has featured at all, and the absence from the schedule of a complete opera, or even the Requiem, has been a major disappointment.

What we heard in this instance was wonderful, if frustrating. An exciting, heart-on-sleeve Verdian, Zhang powered her way through the overture to La Forza del Destino and delivered the Act I prelude to La Traviata with a finely judged combination of passion and restraint.

Calleja, in glorious voice, was bliss in slow, eloquent arias such as O Dolore! from Attila, or Quando le Sere Al Placido from Luisa Miller. But each operatic chunk left you hankering after the whole work. And even though, at the end, Calleja returned to the platform to blow kisses to the audience, he gave us no encore.

The second half was given over to Tchaikovsky's Manfred, the final instalment of the Proms' survey of his complete symphonies. Zhang's in-your-face approach worked wonders here. The first movement, which can sound stentorian, crackled with electricity. She was reckless with speeds, lurched through the first movement coda, and brought the scherzo to a standstill before launching the trio – though each time she got away with it. This is a terrific orchestra, too: what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in dynamism. The single encore, the gallop from Rossini's William Tell overture, was hair-raising.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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