Prom 33 was always bound to be a sell-out, with its two blockbuster hits: Gustav Holst’s World War I astrological epic The Planets (1917) and Richard Strauss’ haunting Death and Transfiguration (1889). Conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, the enormous combined forces of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus gave us a truly cosmic performance.
The massive ensemble captured every planetary mood of Holst’s masterpiece: from the dramatic pomposity of Mars, to the romantic, Christmassy bells of Venus, to the spritely flitting of Mercury, each and every planet left its mark. Jupiter set our hearts ablaze, the string section in particular tugging at our heart strings with every seismic bow. In a fit of genius, chorus director Neil Ferris relocated the female choir for Neptune to the very top balcony of the Royal Albert Hall, so they really were out in space – their mysterious voices disappearing with the rest of the planets into “a galaxy far, far away…”
In the first half was Strauss’ piece, which centres on a man coming to terms with old age and eventually succumbing to death. From the opening, which sets pulsing strings against intermittent horns and flutes, the whole orchestra imbued the piece with melancholic longing. John Robert’s emotionally accomplished oboe solo was particularly whimsical in the face of threatening double basses and cellos: exquisite gloom.
Given the programme, this Prom could have been enhanced by the use of a little more atmospheric low lighting and darkness. This is a great Prom for children and newcomers, and we might have got to see the red planet more, or the cold desolation of blue Neptune far into the abyss: the vast cavity of the Albert Hall certainly lends itself to it. This aside though, an evening of cosmic musical glory.
Tickets for all 72 Proms are available from just £7.12 on the BBC Proms 2022 website.