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Proms: Week 1 - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
qatsi
qatsi
Proms: Week 1
It was really rather grey on Tuesday afternoon, so I decided to detour to the British Library first to see their Out of this World exhibition. Although there were a few pieces of interest, it was a bit bookish - literally and metaphorically - for me.

Consequently I was a little further back than usual in the Arena for Prom 6, which began with Weber's overture to Oberon. The main piece of interest for me in this concert was Brahms' Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, with brothers Renaud and Gautier Capuçon. I felt that the first cello solo was a bit weak, and somewhat drowned out by the heavy breathing, tennis-player style, of the soloist, but after that, the two were quite strong. However, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France seemed to play in a rather impressionist fashion, which was disappointing as it lost a lot of its edges. It's a Germanic piece and, as Bach would say, there is nothing more to it than playing the notes that are written. We had a spectacular encore from the brothers of an arrangement (edit: Halvorsen, Passacaglia based on HWV432) of a piece from one of Handel's keyboard suites. In the second half we had Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, which is by no means a favourite of mine, but on this occasion it did work quite well. Myung-Whun Chung was certainly an enthusiastic conductor, and somehow squeezed an orchestral encore from Bizet's Carmen (when there's a further Prom in the evening, timing can be quite tight).

After a large orchestra, the late-night Prom 7 was a complete contrast, with a performance of Schubert's String Quintet. It's amazing that five string players can take command of such a vast space and provide such an intimate performance. The Belcea Quartet, with ex-Alban Berg Quartet cellist Valentin Erben, were sublime.

Although I'd prefer to space them out a bit more, it turned out that Prom 8 was another one I was keen to attend. Fortunately the weather on Wednesday was more amenable and did nothing worse than provide the occasional few splashes. The concert began with Dvořák's Cello Concerto. I would not claim to know this piece, but I immediately recognised some of the themes. Jean-Guihen Queyras was quite a different cellist than the previous night's Capuçon: a more considered, controlled performance, and definitely accomplished. This year, encores from the soloists seem to be the in thing: this time, a Bach sarabande. It was apparent that quite a few people in the arena had come only for the first half, but they missed a fantastic second half, which was, amazingly, the first complete performance at the Proms of Smetana's Ma vlast. Jiři Belohávek conducted the BBC SO with some interesting tempi: the opening of Vyšehrad was quite measured, whereas the most popular piece from the cycle, Vltava, was certainly a fast-flowing river from the off. Šárka seemed in no hurry to exact her revenge, then on into the maelstrom of From Bohemia's Woods and Fields. Sometimes, I think the double set of variations, Tábor and Blaník, can be a bit dry, but on this occasion I thought they were full of colour. Audiences at the Proms are generally enthusiastic, and their appreciation was certainly well-deserved on this occasion.

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