PROM 28: RACHMANINOV, BORODIN & HUW WATKINS | BBC Proms 2019

The main event was Rachmaninov’s The Bells, in all its high camp, Russian glory, which opened the second half. Christmas came early (very early; it’s August) in the first movement, “Silver Sleigh Bells”, as the gigantic BBC National Chorus of Wales belted out Balmont’s Russian poetry (based on Edgar Allen Poe). Conductor Tadaaki Otaka led the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in capturing every fine detail of the score.

Russian tenor Oleg Dolgov chimed out with great abandon, ushering in the Christmas cheer. Caramel-voiced Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw dazzled us in the second movement about wedding bells. In the fourth movement, we had an electrifying solo from Russian baritone Iurii Samoilov, eliciting the maximum drama from the Russian text about funeral knells.

Closing the first half, we had the world premiere of Huw Watkins’ BBC commission The Moon, another choral work, drawing on texts by Shelley, Larkin and Whitman. Unusually for a new composition, Watkins plays up the joy and beauty of the moon in a tonal, sparkling work. We were led into this by a luscious rendition of Takemitsu’s Twill by Twilight, in homage to American composer Morton Feldman.

For the grand finale, we had that BBC Proms best-loved cliché, the choral Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s unfinished opera Prince Igor. Exotic and ecstatic, Otaka didn’t let up on the rousing passion for the full run-time, leading to an explosive audience response.

1,350 £6 Promming tickets are available on the day for every performance.

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