The final week of the BBC Proms has crept up on us – it’s amazing to think how Elgar’s The Kingdom opened the season just seven weeks ago! There have been some fabulous concerts and great performances to enjoy and Bachtrack has reviewed all but one of them (read our Proms reviews here). Some of the most enticing fare has been left until last, with three of the world’s ‘biggest hitting’ orchestras visiting Kensington this week.

Rachmaninov
Rachmaninov

The Berliner Philharmoniker’s proms have always been special events, from their 1991 debut under Claudio Abbado. This season they bring contrasting – and intriguing – programmes. Sir Simon Rattle hasn’t conducted much Rachmaninov in his career, with The Bells and the Symphonic Dances being notable exceptions. The three movement suite Symphonic Dances, included in the Berliners' first prom, is the composer’s final orchestral work, written in exile but evoking his beloved Russia. Rachmaninov, as in so many of his works, quotes the Dies irae theme, as well as several other pieces. The lavish orchestration, including a prominent role for alto saxophone, makes it a tour de force. Rattle pairs it with another showstopper, Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. In their second programme, Rattle and his Berliners tackle Bach’s St Matthew Passion in a staging realised by director Peter Sellars. With Mark Padmore and Christian Gerhaher leading the soloists (as The Evangelist and Christ respectively), this should be a fascinating and provocative performance.

After the sublimely played Third and Fourth Symphonies of Brahms from the Budapest Festival Orchestra the other week, it will be fascinating to compare approaches when The Cleveland Orchestra completes the cycle over two concerts, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. Brahms laboured over his First Symphony, working in the shadow of Beethoven’s symphonic legacy, whereas the more relaxed Second is infused with Schubertian sunshine.

Alan Gilbert © Chris Lee
Alan Gilbert
© Chris Lee

Leipzig Gewandhaus proms are also keenly anticipated. Indeed, the orchestra was thrilled to discover that the first prom of the 2014 season to sell out was one of its pair of concerts in the final week. Mahler’s mighty Third Symphony – the longest in the standard repertory – calls for huge forces and has a programme, of sorts, with each movement originally holding a title, although Mahler dropped these before publication. This year sees Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9 in D minor return to its traditional slot on the penultimate night. The Gewandhaus also has a tradition of performing this symphony every New Year’s Eve, so has this score running through its veins. Alan Gilbert conducts. 

Paloma Faith and Rufus Wainwright are two big names guaranteed to draw large late night crowds for their proms where they perform a series of their hit songs in orchestral arrangements. The Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra and the Britten Sinfonia provide the luxury backing.

80th birthday knights Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies have their final celebratory concerts (a Cadogan Hall matinee and a late night prom respectively) before the flag-waving and jollification of the Last Night send-off, conducted by Sakari Oramo.

Sakari Oramo at the Royal Albert Hall © BBC | Robert Viglasky
Sakari Oramo at the Royal Albert Hall
© BBC | Robert Viglasky