Punchy, zingy, raspy, and rushed. By far the most erratic concert of the summer season was delivered at last night's Prom where Paavo Jarvi brought his small band of Bremen town musicians (that is, the well-regarded Deutsche Kammer-Philharmonie Bremen). When Haydn made his second celebrated visit to London in 1794, he employed an orchestra of up to eighty musicians playing before crowds of perhaps a thousand. So it's pure affectation to ask forty musicians to play two of Beethoven's most powerful works, the Violin Concerto and Symphony no. 5, in the yawning spaces of Albert Hall, which seats over six thousand. In the name of period style we were treated last night to three double basses, all but unheard beyond the first few rows. They might as well have sawed the air.
"Sachs, mein Freund!" Bryn Terfel has sung extracts from Hans Sachs's music for years, and the character always seemed well suited to his warm voice and air of easy humanity. But he didn't unveil the complete role until this season, in the very production of Die Meistersinger that visited the Proms last night. Terfel proudly puts Welshman after his name, and he promised the country's National Opera that they would get his first Sachs. Six thousand listeners in Albert Hall spent most of the afternoon and evening for the privilege, just over six hours (imagine the ones in the arena who had to stand), with scarcely a handful leaving early. Terfel raises sheep at home, and it takes a golden fleece to hear him in Covent Garden, the Met, or Salzburg. Here he was cheap as chips but musically priceless.
Streaks of gold. Among Verdi operas that connoisseurs treasure but not the general public, Simon Boccanegra stands high. In the modern era there have been perhaps two worthy recordings and very occasional stagings. Yet suddenly Boccanegra is everywhere, thanks to the decision by Placido Domingo to take on a baritone role. Last night at the Proms he scored a spectacular success, with popping flashbulbs and shouting worthy of the World Cup. Verdi was a confirmed atheist, but if his shade survives, it must have been astonished – the reception was far wilder than the one accorded to Die Meistersinger the night before.