Arts: Between light and shade

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The Independent Culture
THE DARKENING descent from life-affirmation in Bach's sublime motet "Singet dem Herrn" to the death-tainted pages of Mozart's Requiem was more comfortable at home than in the stifling heat at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday - although, as presenter Penny Gore told us, the audience was riveted by what they heard. Trevor Pinnock conducted the Choir of the English Concert and the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of Prom 29 related the full splendour of Bach's antiphonal dialoguing.

The slow opening of Haydn's F minor symphony "La passione" was ominously quiet, rather like a ghostly premonition of Schubert's Death and the Maiden. The lower strings of the English Concert came across with impressive clarity, and Pinnock's expressive phrasing - homing in on contrasts between light and shade - made maximum capitol of Haydn's dramatic writing. Paradoxically, the tension registered most when the playing was below mezzo forte, though the finale benefited from some forceful accents.

The first half of the concert concluded with two of Haydn's briefest choral settings, the second of which - Insanae et vanae curae - paved a stern course towards the Mozart in part two. Pinnock's command of the Requiem (performed in Sussmayr's completion) was evident both from a weighty, though never sluggish, Introit and impressive attack at the start of the Dies Irae. The Kyrie elison unfolded with energy and precision, and the trombone solo in the Tuba mirum was superbly played.

Tempi were well-nigh ideal, and much the same could be said of Pinnock's solo singers. Soprano Donna Brown and mezzo-soprano Catherine Denley wove eloquent lines near the start of the Benedictus, and Phillip Ens was the imposing bass soloist for the Tuba mirum. Tenor Marc La Brocq blended well with his colleagues, and the chorus members surpassed themselves.

Prom 30 shifted the axis from awed wonder to humour with Poulenc's Diaghilev ballet Les biches, cheeky, occasionally sentimental music with echoes of Mozart, Stravinsky and Cesar Franck. Barry Wordsworth drew some spirited playing from the BBC Concert Orchestra, though Roussel's muscle-bound Third Symphony would have benefited from fuller-toned strings and less insistent brass. Soprano Annick Massis was agile and radiant in Leila's "Temple Scene" from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and Ophelia's "Mad Scene" from Hamlet by Thomas and pianists Pascal Roge and Jean-Philippe Collard revelled in the colourful complexities of Poulenc's tragi-comic Concerto for Two Pianos. Wordsworth and his players bowed out on a high with Offenbach's Can-can, enthusiastically supported by shouts from the arena.

Rob Cowan

Sunday and Monday's Proms will be rebroadcast by Radio 3 at 2pm today and on Friday respectively