PROM 9: STRAUSS, BRAHMS & BROSTRÖM | BBC Proms 2019

Brahms’ 45-minute first symphony, completed in 1876, was initially dubbed “Beethoven’s 10th” by critics, for Brahms’ obvious adoration of the composer. Markus Stenz led the BBC National Orchestra of Wales through every storm and calm ripple of the work, in a masterful playing. Why was the Royal Albert Hall half empty?

Oboe (Chris Cowie), flute (Matthew Featherstone) and clarinet (Robert Plane) solos shone particularly, as did leader Lesley Hatfield in a brief but very sweet solo violin moment. Stenz conducts without a baton, using his full body, as much a spectacle to watch as the music was to hear. Whatever the unorthodoxy, it obviously works, with the full ensemble breathing as one, and receiving a huge ovation at the finale.

In the first half was the UK premiere of Tobias Broström’s BBC co-commission, Nigredo — Dark Night of the Soul, a concerto for two trumpets (Jeroen Berwaerts and Håkan Hardenberger) and orchestra. It’s a masterpiece. Brooding beds of strings mix with soft pedalled vibraphone, as contemplative, overlapping trumpet lines echo out. The effect is very New York film noir, but a B-movie score this is not. Towards the end, rapid, mambo-style percussion hammers out the piece’s driving finale.

Richard Strauss’ cheeky, bombastic Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche opened the programme with the orchestra immediately asserting themselves as a world-class ensemble, with an utterly confident rendition, with fun to be found in every second. For all the drama of Brahms’ first symphony in the second half, it was the first half that really blew us away.

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

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