Week 4 at the BBC Proms brings unusual repertoire, a conductor in an unfamiliar guise and the return of a popular orchestra.

Edward Gardner © Benjamin Ealovega
Edward Gardner
© Benjamin Ealovega

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain’s annual prom always finds the Royal Albert Hall bursting at the seams – both the auditorium and the platform. This year, conducted by English National Opera’s charismatic music director Edward Gardner, they bring a programme of 20th century showpieces. Stravinsky’s ballet Pétrouchka – about the puppet who comes to life at the Shrovetide Fair – is a colourful, almost garish, piece, containing rhythmic complexity. Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in D flat major is a brief, glittering score; Louis Schwizgebel, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, plays the demanding solo role. After Birtwistle’s Sonic Severance, the programme ends with Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, a work Gardner has recorded. Like Pétrouchka, it offers plenty of opportunities for the different sections of the NYOGB to display their wares.

Sakari Oramo, the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor, embraces English repertoire in his prom on Wednesday. The score Vaughan Williams composed for Job isn’t as popular as something like Pétrouchka or Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, but receives the occasional concert outing. Inspired by William Blake’s illustrations, the “masque” (the composer disliked the term “ballet”) is heavily scored. Alongside Job, Oramo programmes a rare British symphony – William Alwyn’s First – with the ubiquitous The Lark Ascending, in which the soloist is Janine Jansen.

Janine Jansen © Harald Hoffmann | Decca
Janine Jansen
© Harald Hoffmann | Decca

Jansen is principally in London for Monday’s Chamber Prom at Cadogan Hall which focuses on Prokofiev and Schubert. She is joined by pianist Itamar Golan, but also by Sakari Oramo – as violinist. He and Jansen perform Prokofiev’s Sonata in C major for two violins. Prokofiev composed it in 1932. In his 1941 autobiography, he wrote about its composition: “Listening to bad music sometimes inspires good ideas... After once hearing an unsuccessful piece for two violins without piano accompaniment, it struck me that in spite of the apparent limitations of such a duet one could make it interesting enough to listen to for ten or fifteen minutes…”

Sir Mark Elder’s Elgar with the Hallé is – quite rightly – very highly regarded. He is joined by mezzo-soprano Alice Coote in Sea Pictures, his song cycle setting works by five poets, including his wife. The work is one of Elgar’s most popular and is in the repertoire of most British mezzos. The Hallé programme concludes with Beethoven’s Third Symphony – the “Eroica”, which was originally dedicated to Napoleon, but furiously scrubbed out the title inscription when Buonaparte declared himself emperor. It was later published under the title “Heroic Symphony, Composed to celebrate the memory of a great man”. From its stirring opening – two stabbing E flat major chords – to its celebratory conclusion, the “Eroica” is one of classical music’s finest symphonies and should bring the Hallé’s prom to a rousing end.

Whether attending the concert in the Royal Albert Hall or joining the radio relay, happy listening!