Royal Albert Hall, London
Large amateur choirs form the backbone of so many Proms but rarely get top billing, so it was good to find the BBC Symphony Chorus thrust firmly into the spotlight on Sunday afternoon.
Their concert was bookended by hugely accomplished performances of two a cappella warhorses. Bolstered by soloists from Trinity College of Music, the chorus conquered the shifting harmonies of Poulenc's Figure Humaine and the sensual textures of Daniel-Lesur's Le Cantique des Cantiques. The only rest for the singers came as London Brass played three short pieces by Takemitsu, a composer who could make even a fanfare sound languorous.
The premiere of Wilful Chants, for which the chorus and brass were joined by the percussionists of O Duo, made for an even larger vocal showpiece. Stephen Montague's quirky work begins by mixing aggressive, improvised chants with quiet, experimental noises – who knew that a few dozen tongues clicking could sound like a bubbling stream? When words emerge they are a random array of Latin phrases, from psalms to the motto of Arsenal FC, set to music of Carmina Burana-like solemnity. For a time Montague's mock-banality skirts close to the real thing, but the piece still sails by exuberantly.
The Proms' hardest-working orchestra returned in the evening under Andrew Davis. The BBCSO effortlessly captured the translucence of Messiaen's Un Sourire, written for the Mozart bicentenary; Louis Lortie was an impulsive-sounding soloist in the latter's Piano Concerto No 17, his dialogues with the wind instruments in the slow movement beautifully done. A rare hearing of Parry's Elegy for Brahms left no doubt of the composer's love for his hero, but even such a sincerely felt pastiche faded before the real thing, in the form of a weighty account of the Fourth Symphony.
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