BBC Proms, Cadogan Hall/Royal Albert Hall, London

Yo-Yo Ma
Financial Times

By Richard Fairman

Each year on August bank holiday Monday the BBC Proms play to the distant throbbing accompaniment of the Notting Hill carnival across the park. In 2010, Bach was chosen to fill a day-long programme of events with his own Baroque rhythms, but this year’s pair of Proms could hardly have afforded a wider contrast.

At Cadogan Hall Yo-Yo Ma’s lunchtime recital held his audience spellbound. As a curtainraiser to the premiere of Graham Fitkin’s Cello Concerto two days later he offered L, a short work commissioned from Fitkin five years ago to mark the cellist’s 50th birthday (note the Roman numeral “L” equals 50). To judge from L Fitkin has an optimistic idea of what turning 50 may feel like. The piece is a nonstop outpouring of energy, as cellist and pianist swap frenetic rhythms, until the cello part finally collapses in an exhausted volley of pizzicatos – unflagging invention, nimble playing.

A couple of South American pieces by Egberto Gismonti/Geraldo Carneiro provided a sun-drenched interlude. Then Ma and his accompanist Kathryn Stott, who are marking 25 years together in recital, showed how close their musical partnership has grown in a perfectly balanced performance of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata, in which Ma’s trademark lambent tone sang out in heartfelt lyrical playing. That was the end of the recital for radio listeners. But those in the hall had an encore, a solo from Ennio Morricone’s The Mission – one more reason to get to the Proms live whenever possible.

The evening’s “Hooray for Hollywood” Prom at the Royal Albert Hall was as live as they come. John Wilson has made a speciality of these music-at-the-movies Proms and they only get better. His handpicked John Wilson Orchestra creates a mighty noise with colours so uniquely vivid he could patent the sound waves.

For Monday’s programme he turned to five golden decades of the Hollywood musical, from Irving Berlin to Jerry Herman. The six vocalists – lyrical Annalene Beechey and Sarah Fox, jazz-tinted Clare Teal and Matthew Ford, Charles Castronovo wholehearted in his Mario Lanza number and, brilliant as ever, the scorching Caroline O’Connor – did not let the side down. Nothing, though, was better than when John Wilson and his dazzling orchestra were simply left to blaze a trail on their own.