One of the great things about the Proms, at least if you have a season ticket, is the opportunity to experience the new or reappraise the familiar without a massive financial outlay - and sneak out easily if it really is dreadful.
Now and again you get lucky.
I was no great fan of Schumann's second symphony before this evening, but Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro totally won me over. In the wrong hands, it's messy, repetitive and self-indulgent. But Dausgaard's modest forces repainted it in fresh new colours. They aren't all spring chickens - some of the older players sport splendidly Bergamanesque whiskers - but they're all willing to rethink conventional approaches. Minimal string vibrato, assertive winds and the raw, thrilling timbre of the natural trumpet (for once, in tune!) gave it a lean, springy energy miles away from the padded luxe of the full-blown romantic orchestra. Dausgaard's clean phrasing and careful balance displayed the full force of Schumann's radicalism. And what a delightful change to see an orchestra truly enjoying their work.
The snippet from Schumann's incomplete and very early G minor symphony which began the evening was even more of a revelation. Not a work of the greatest profundity, but bursting with the uncomplicated vigour of youth.
That's something it shared with Albert Schnelzer's A Freak in Burbank, inspired by the childhood of Tim Burton and making its UK premiere. Telescoping as many ideas into its nine minutes as John Adams would stretch out for a full symphony, it combines ear-friendliness with the adrenalin-busting energy of a fairground ride.
It went down well with the (far from capacity) audience but I do wish Roger Wright would take a few more risks with the contemporary side of the Proms. Much of the modern music in the schedules is high quality, but precious little is adventurous or truly individual. An important part of the Proms' function is to expand audience's horizons. But the non-core part of the schedule is packed with the likes of Sondheim and Hammerstein instead of more challenging and less populist choices, It may sell more tickets, and protect Roger Wright from the traditionalists' ire, but he's selling the Proms heritage short.
The one part of the programme I was confident of enjoying turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Les nuits d'été is normally sung by a mezzo or a tenor, and Nina Stemme is of course neither. This in itself didn't turn out to be a problem. Although she plays the heaviest roles in the repertoire, Stemme has the range and flexibility of a much lighter voice. She spanned the cycle's vast tessitura with ease, displaying the unfamiliar rich and resonant lower notes of a natural born contralto as well as the better-known gleaming top.
The problem was that she just didn't know her material (lodged, oddly, at knee height and frequently referred to). Impeccable diction (by soprano standards) only served to highlight a number of pronunciation slips. Notes were mishit, rhythms misjudged. The texts, which are very beautiful and very particular, were glossed over in favour of a generalised wash of emotion. A few moments came alive in Sur les lagunes and Au cimetière, a hint of what we might be able to look forward to if Stemme ever gets properly acquainted with Berlioz.