Prom 44: Royal Philharmonic / Gatti  * * * *
Prom 45: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Royal Albert Hall, London  * * * *

Highly contrasted vocal music dominated the early and late-night Proms on Wednesday.  The chronology went backwards, from Berg’s steamy Lulu Suite via Mahler to 12th-century a cappella via Arvo Pärt.  In the first concert, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under its music director, Daniele Gatti, was on splendid form.  Berg’s Lulu Suite is in fact bleeding chunks in five movements from the opera that Berg left incomplete.  Christine Schäfer dressed for the part – first in a revealing corset dress as the vampish Lulu, changing to a sleek black number as Lulu’s dying lover, Countess Geschwitz…

The late-night Prom was a guide, homage and progress report on the Estonian composer Pärt, who turns 70 next month.  In a programme of Prom premieres, the crack Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under its chief conductor Paul Hillier did the honours.  Pärt’s progress can almost be summed up as a move from black and white to colour.  Pärt’s An den Wassern zu Babel (1976) for choir and organ (Christopher Bowers-Broadbent) is mesmeric, repetitious and bleakly coloured.  The more recent Nunc dimittis (2001) keeps the grail, but Salve regina (2002) is technicolour and sugary, austerity virtually abandoned.