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The living sound effects library is bringing his prodigious mimicry to the world of classical music

Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, a didgeridoo, a mournful trumpet solo and a hi-NRG remix of that trumpet solo. This is just a fraction of the sounds the Australian beatboxer Tom Thum, armed with nothing but a microphone, can emulate. In an era of vocoder-heavy, synthesised pop, he is a compelling reminder of the extreme limits to which the human body can be pushed.

Related: The Avalanches update social media accounts, sparking album rumours

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Anthony Quinn, in his review of Lara Feigel’s The Bitter Taste of Victory (9 April), cites Klaus Mann’s discredited account of a post-1945 interview with the octogenarian Richard Strauss to sanction calling the composer an “unrepentant Nazi” for moaning that Hitler hardly ever went “to hear any of my operas”. (One reason Hitler might have shunned them was that almost all of their librettos were by Hugo Von Hofmannsthal, who under Nazi law was Jewish, but died in 1929, just short of the shaming.) Since Mann’s slander, 60 years of sober scholarship into 20th-century German culture, and into the life of Strauss, have thoroughly aired the great composer’s self-inflated but profoundly un-Nazi attempts in 1933-34 to exercise a cultural sway over the new Nazi regime, apparently in the (retrospectively fatuous) assumption that after more than half a century of world fame he’d be listened to. He soon found otherwise, and drifted into internal exile.

Among the later operas that Hitler didn’t listen to was, of course, Strauss’s pacifist Friedenstag (1936), with a libretto essentially by the Jewish Stefan Zweig who, despite Strauss’s naive wish to credit him, used the complaisant Josef Gregor as a beard for the project. It’s hard to recognise an “unrepentant Nazi” in this and other narratives of Strauss’s responses to the nightmare he found himself attempting to ride.
John Clute
London

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There are few innovations in David Pickard’s first year heading the Proms, nor big orchestral premieres – but there’s plenty to look forward to, from Boulez to Berlioz and Bowie

Regime change at the Proms is always a rather protracted affair, but the latest changing of the guard for the summer festival has been more involved than it usually is. Roger Wright stepped down as Radio 3 controller and director of the Proms at the beginning of the 2014 season, and with no carefully choreographed succession in place, his permanent replacement, David Pickard, who was previously general director at Glyndebourne, only took up his post last autumn. During the 15-month interregnum, the role was taken by Radio 3 editor Edward Blakeman, with the result that the recently announced 2016 season is effectively the combined work of three planners.

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Dasch/Vogel/Elsner/Ivashchenko/Berlin Radio Choir/Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle
(Berlin Philharmonic)

Simon Rattle’s first set of the Beethoven symphonies appeared from EMI (now Warner Classics) in 2003. Recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic and using Jonathan Del Mar’s then newly completed edition of the scores, it was a much-hyped release, which never quite lived up to all the fuss around it. The latest version, based on a cycle that Rattle conducted in the Berlin Philharmonie concert hall last October, comes in the usual lavish packaging from the Berlin Philharmonic’s own label, with the set of five audio CDs supplemented by a Blu-ray audio disc containing all the symphonies in uncompressed studio-quality sound, and two further video discs of the concerts from which they are taken.

It’s a curious collection of performances, though. From the start, it’s clear that this is going to be Beethoven viewed entirely from the perspective of 19th-century high Romanticism; even in the 1st Symphony, the world of Haydn has been left far behind. But the explosive climaxes, the sometimes vertiginous speeds – in the scherzo and finale of the 5th, and in the finale of the 7th, for example – seem to be relentlessly insistent and are at a cost to the music’s moments of wit.

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Union Chapel, London
Contemporary compositions and improvised jazz celebrate the sonorities of the church organ in the masterly hands of James McVinnie and the Necks

Even those of us who’ve been coming to concerts at the Union Chapel in London for yonks might not have noticed the venue’s enormous pipe organ, hidden as it is behind the octagonal pulpit. Tonight’s bill celebrates the sonorities of this unique instrument in a variety of unlikely settings, while cameras relay live images on to a giant screen above the stage. The audience can see the organ’s bellows puff in and out, the pedals being punched by dainty boots, the organist’s hands switching between three manuals and adjusting the stops.

The first half sees James McVinnie – one-time organist at Westminster Abbey and now a specialist in contemporary composition – playing pieces by Philip Glass and Tom Jenkinson. Glass’s pieces are a soothing blur of double-time arpeggios which disorientate us when the time signatures change, or when a booming bass line kicks in. The new commissions by Jenkinson – better known as proggy bassist and drill’n’bass pioneer Squarepusher – are more problematic. Instead of embracing the majesty and the geometric order of the instrument, he undermines it with scribbly, unstructured meanderings and headache-inducing 12-tone scales.

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Proms director David Pickard reveals new series called ‘Proms at ...’ which will see music performed away from Albert Hall

The minimalist music of Steve Reich will be performed on the top floor of Peckham’s municipal multi-storey car park as part of the 122nd BBC Proms season.

Unveiling his first season in charge, the Proms director, David Pickard, revealed a new series called “Proms at...” which will see music performed away from the Royal Albert Hall.

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Wigmore Hall, London
The partnership between Faust’s violin and Bezuidenhout’s modern harpsichord was exhilarating

It took a few pages of Bach’s Sonata No 1 for violin and harpsichord in B minor for Isabelle Faust and Kristian Bezuidenhout to get the balance between their instruments right in this Wigmore Hall recital. Yet once they had done so, with Bezuidenhout’s bright modern harpsichord, a 2010 copy of a French instrument of 1769, reined in and Faust’s violin sound more consistently projected – in itself a fascinating process of in-flight adjustment – this all-Bach evening hit its stride and never lost it for a single moment thereafter.

In each half of the programme, two of Bach’s set of six sonatas for violin and harpsichord bracketed a substantial solo by each player. In Faust’s case, this took the magisterial form of the second solo violin sonata in A minor. This received a reading that managed to be both utterly focused yet full of grandly expressive contrasts, resulting in a sumptuous musical journey from the broadly phrased arcs of the opening grave, through the concentrated fugue and fragile andante to the firm-fingered fleetness of the finale. Bezuidenhout’s solo was more overtly virtuosic, the youthful Toccata in D minor, with its swirling opening flourishes and rapid-fire fugal counterpoint, all compellingly articulated by this most characterful of keyboard personalities.

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Royal Festival Hall, London
Vladimir Jurowski’s unshowy reading of Mahler’s Second Symphony as the composer might have heard it offered a wealth of detail

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is celebrating its 30th birthday by giving the period-instrument treatment to a pair of late-Romantic 19th-century symphonies, under two of its principal artists. Next week, Simon Rattle will conduct Bruckner’s Sixth, but first, Vladimir Jurowski took on Mahler’s Second, the Resurrection Symphony, with an orchestra of well over 100 players, the Philharmonia Chorus, and soloists Adriana Kucerová and Sarah Connolly.

In its typically rather detached way, Jurowski’s account was both a fascinating exercise in historical reconstruction and a satisfying musical experience in its own right. But it’s one that would have been even more revealing had the OAE been more forthcoming in detailing the instruments that its players used, as François-Xavier Roth’s period band Les Siècles is when it explores French orchestral works from Mahler’s period. Such detail might not fit well into the orchestra’s fluffy and generally inadequate programme books, but if this really was an attempt to present the symphony “as Mahler might have heard it when it was first performed”, then it would have been worth knowing when the woodwind instruments were made and whether they were French or German, whether the trumpets had rotary valves or pistons, and so on.

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Iconic nightclubs like Cream and The Haçienda are coming back from the dead with an orchestra in tow but is it ‘rich exploration’ or shameless nostalgia cash-in?

Anyone familiar with Manchester’s cottage industry of club nostalgia will have noted the latest addition to dance music’s legacy: a full-blown orchestra. Last month saw the debut of Haçienda Classical, where house classics were pumped out by the club’s former mainstay DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering and retooled by Manchester Camarata. The run included two nights within the majestic walls of the Royal Albert Hall. Of course, Happy Mondays man Bez was on hand to do his dance, mercifully stripped of maracas. When Tony Wilson famously announced: “This is Manchester. We do things differently here,” it’s uncertain whether that philosophy would one day encompass a strings-led, high-NRG reinterpretation of Black Box’s Ride On Time.

Related: Hacienda Classical review – Madchester glory days with strings attached

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Stephen Frears’s enjoyable, sentimental biopic gives Streep a role to relish, while Hugh Grant provides a touching foil in a genuine paean to mediocrity

Perhaps she was a tragic figure, or a clinical case worthy of Oliver Sacks, or the incarnation of a dishonest middlebrow culture. But in the end, Stephen Frears’s enjoyable, sentimental movie turns this bizarre real-life figure into a version of Eddie the Eagle, swooping and crashing through New York’s music-loving high society in the 1940s. And as with Eddie, the question is … do we laugh with or laugh at? Which is the more honest response?

Related: Silver-screen underdogs: why cinema loves a loser

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