Proms 2015: Prom 41, Sherlock Holmes – A Musical Mind, review: 'good-natured whimsy'

Sherlock Prom
Mark Gatiss (left) was a special guest at the BBC's Sherlock Holmes Prom

Two questions arose before the start of this Prom, one of the highlights of the season. Would Benedict Cumberbatch, star of the BBC series, spend his day off from playing the Prince of Denmark to delight the audience at the Royal Albert Hall? And would this prove to be a triumph for BBC self-promotion, while delivering little in the way of content? 

The answer to both of these questions is no. Cumberbatch was nowhere to be seen (although co-star Martin Freeman was spotted in the audience) and, the presence of Mark Gatiss aside, the afternoon proceeded with little material from the hit show. Instead, this was a programme of good-natured whimsy, a grab-bag of music from previous screen incarnations and works that Holmes might have listened to. 

Conductor Barry Wordsworth with the BBC Concert Orchestra took us through the scores of Hans Zimmer (composer for the recent Robert Downey Jr films) and Patrick Gowers (who wrote much for the landmark Jeremy Brett series which ran for a decade from 1984). In fact, Gowers’s works, as performed here by violin soloist Jack Liebeck proved to be both haunting and intellectually questing, and a sad sign that TV music just isn’t what it was. 

In comparison, David Arnold and Michael Price’s score for the Cumberbatch series (which ended the Prom) seemed generic, although the BBC Concert Orchestra did at least manage to imbue it with an acute sense of drama. 

It was fascinating to see some less well-known scores magnified on stage. The best example was Miklós Rózsa’s Main Titles from Billy Wilder’s sublimely eccentric The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, a densely orchestrated piece of Eastern European chutzpah which sounded both cinematic in its sweep and mind-bogglingly complex. 

Gatiss and presenter Matthew Sweet made an endearing double act, particularly when hamming up the introduction to Frank Skinner’s (the composer not the stand-up comic’s) doom-laden score for Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, starring Basil Rathbone. Both Sweet and Gatiss reminded you of the narrator from some Seventies horror anthology series, their voices thick with mystery. 

Not all the music seemed well place. The inclusion of the Ride of the Valkyries just because Holmes happened to like Wagner seemed to smack of someone desperately trying to bulk out the programme. But elsewhere, the speculation worked well. The inclusion of two works by the relatively obscure 18th-century composer Orlande de Lassus (on whom Holmes composed a monograph) was sung with a numinous glow by choral octet Stile Antico, unlocking an emotion that would surely be anathema to the Baker Street detective

This was an intelligently populist event but one couldn’t help yearn for the razzle-dazzle of the Doctor Who Proms from recent years. But how do you keep both the Sherlock fans and the classical enthusiasts happy? Well, that’s a three-pipe problem.

Hear this Prom on the iPlayer for 30 days via the BBC Proms website or download for 30 days via the free iPlayer Radio app.