It’s hard to say who was more excited about Prom 19: Thomas Dausgaard, who conducted the whole thing with lashings of arm-waving vigour, or the Proms audience, who enjoyed the performance so much that they deliberately (and justifiably) clapped between the movements. Perhaps some conflict between two such highly enthused forces was always inevitable – particularly as the concert finished with that notorious clapper’s purgatory, Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony, whose rousing penultimate movement always provokes at least some applause. But watching Dausgaard here turn around and briefly attempt to conduct the audience into silence was frankly bizarre. When coupled with a sort of classical-music staring contest at the end of the piece, with Dausgaard holding the hall in silence for as long as possible before the applause eventually crept in anyway, it unfortunately did cast a slight shadow over an otherwise solid performance.

That said, there was plenty to enjoy in the Tchaikovsky. The third movement especially worked very well, sounding as punchy and driven as this march should, and with a sense of cohesion which was occasionally missing from the other movements. The second, I thought, took a while to find its stride, perhaps the victim of some very abstract conducting early on. This 5/4 movement relies on strong rhythmic momentum for its effect, and this was missed a little at the start – but some great playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra certainly made amends. The outer movements were also memorable chiefly for the orchestral playing, with isolated moments for wind, low strings and (especially) brass all sounding very striking. Best of all was the piece’s conclusion, the superbly dark tone on cellos and basses a fittingly emotive end to this very explicitly heart-wrenching piece.

Thomas Dausgaard © Ulla-Carin Eckblom
Thomas Dausgaard
© Ulla-Carin Eckblom

The first half seemed rather far away by then, and it had been extremely varied. Two quirky Danish works began proceedings: the UK premières of Rued Langgaard’s Symphony no. 11, “Ixion” (1944-5), and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s Incontri (2010). Langgaard’s piece is extremely short for what is nominally a symphony, and features four tubas, which in this performance sat at the front of the stage. Langgaard is a particular favourite of Thomas Dausgaard, who brought his monumental Music of the Spheres to the Proms in 2010 to much acclaim, and from this brief piece the appeal is clear: it breezily captures a sense of the epic and combines a highly unconventional basic conception – there’s more or less just one theme which keeps recurring – with a very approachable harmonic palette and a fair dose of post-Wagnerian bombast.

Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s Incontri, on the other hand, was far from bombastic. A deeply sectional piece, it often created a sense of tension between the different orchestral sections: strings against brass against woodwind, with a bizarre selection of percussion instruments confusing everyone. Standout moments included a lengthy percussion interlude, played by three people but sounding more like a drum solo such as you’d find at a jazz gig, and an odd, soft section with high strings which provided a surprising elegant interlude. It was great in parts although it was hard to make sense of a whole.

Much the same might be said of the programme overall, as these two shortish Danish pieces were followed by two longer Russian ones, the Tchaikovsky symphony and the Shostakovich Cello Concerto no. 1. It felt a little like a fairly normal concert had been hijacked by a couple of eccentric Danes. But despite his piece’s odd placement, Daniel Müller-Schott stole the show with an exemplary performance of the Shostakovich to finish the first half. It’s an eminently dramatic work, from its abrupt opening for the soloist to its frenetic and angsty close, and Müller-Schott seemed to be acting as much as playing music, his performance full of compelling gestures both physical and sonic. His tone is very even and has a sweet lyrical pull to it, which made the soft second movement sound exquisite. Interaction with the orchestra was also very strong here, with the exchanges of melody between soloist and celeste well handled, and a great turn from the solo horn.

A slightly mixed experience overall, but some brilliant moments. It deserved all of its applause.

***11