Wagner took the early headlines. Britten, however, has also been brilliantly well-served at the Proms this year. After Ian Bostridge’s stunningly caustic performance of Les Illuminations , and Glyndebourne’s shattering Billy Budd , Janine Jansen and the Orchestre de Paris took on the Violin Concerto, a troublesome piece Britten worried at for decades, and created similar magic.
It’s a gnarly work, full of blind alleys and discombobulating effects (none weirder than two piccolos skirmishing with a tuba). It was partly Britten’s tribute to Alban Berg, but it’s also the closest the British composer got to the sparse grotesquerie of Shostakovich or Prokofiev. Jansen attacked it as if her life depended on it, every odd quiver and scrape given real dramatic bite, phrases of sweet melancholy poignantly clung on to and then reluctantly discarded. This was violin as troubled, troubling orator and nothing was spoken more eloquently than the soloist’s final, sweet-bitter departure into the wispy orchestral textures. Probably feeling as if she’d said it all, Jansen declined an encore. The very disciplined Paavo Järvi, current chief conductor of the Parisian orchestra, seems like an excellent fit for a band that internationally hasn’t always made the impact it should. He brought rigour and restraint to both Britten and Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten , and kept his players bubbling away beautifully during Berlioz’s Le Corsaire overture. I suspect the dash, swagger, and unashamedly grandiose tone of Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony — the soloist the equally incisive Thierry Escaich — was their own.