Prom 51, Royal Albert Hall, London
Tête à Tête Festival, Riverside Studios, London
Così fan tutte, Village Underground, London

The Swedish Chamber Orchestra's programme of Berlioz, Schumann and Schnelzer made for an evening of clever contrasts

Gothic sensibility permeated the Royal Albert Hall on Monday evening: euphoric, melancholic, sun-dazzled and moon-drunk.

It must have been an exhausting business being a composer in the 1840s, with the sublime landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich mocking music's descriptive aspirations, French poets seducing the impressionable with their thick-perfumed, fevered, opiate laments, and the wraiths of ruined Germanic virgins sweeping through Europe like an occupying army in muslin nightdresses.

The quicksilver strings, gleaming horns and grassy woodwind of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra plunged the audience at Prom 51 into a whirlwind of overstimulation and hypersensitivity in conductor Thomas Dausgaard's cleverly contrasted programme of Berlioz, Schumann and Schnelzer. Classical and Romantic styles blurred disconcertingly in the Moderato-Allegro of Schumann's Zwickau Symphony (one of only two movements to survive), its orchestration treacherously top-heavy, an Alpine climb made while wearing velvet slippers. His Second Symphony was infused with light, a great gasp of Alpine air, any fraying at the edges of articulation the result of enthusiasm rather than torpor. Dausgaard conducted a vivacious, mercurial Scherzo filled with Beethovenian vigour and Schubertian fizz, while the shimmering trills and radiant arcs of the Adagio unfolded over a blissful, lilting accompaniment.

The most conventional and technically secure orchestration of the evening was heard in Schnelzer's 2007 conceit of skeletal trills, playful pauses and cartoonishly grimacing brass. Perhaps the lonely oboe represented Schnelzer himself, who clearly has an unfashionable interest in tunes of all colours. Perhaps, too, there is a limit to how many ways you can depict the macabre? If Haydn can be heard in A Freak in Burbank, so can Danny Elfmann, whose scores accompany Tim Burton's films. But this is a smart, likeable showpiece from a talented composer.

Undeterred by Nina Stemme's muffled French and glossed phrasing – no exclamation marks, few commas, little relish for the decadent mouth-feel of Théophile Gautier's poetry – the SCO scampered merrily through the verdant landscape of the first song of Les nuits d'été, easing in to the blanched, baleful, stalker's lullaby of "Le spectre de la rose", the gamba-like cello and musky bassoon figures of "Sur les lagunes" and the tortured temperament of "Absence", its woodwind chords as precariously disposed as in the Schumann.

However sensitive the accompaniment, however painterly their playing, this was a disappointing performance from the Swedish soprano, book-bound and error-prone, her implacable tone only fleetingly compatible with Berlioz's silken soundworld in the bitter low F sharp of "Sur les lagunes" and in the long, white curves of "Au cimitière".

Tête à Tête's annual festival closed with a flurry of recent, new and still-developing works; from Sawn-off Opera's awkward triptych of hotel-room scenas for a life-coach, a bespoke tailor, his wealthy client's proxy and a shoe-fetishist female MP, to Will Todd's sour-breathed, true-crime musical, The Screams of Kitty Genovese, Julian Grant's tart, giggly harp- and flute-accompanied skit for Sarah Palin (Charmian Bedford) and Nicolas Sarkozy (Danny Broad), and the first fragment of Michael Zev Gordon's forthcoming opera, Icarus.

Of the two musicals, both indebted to Sondheim in their contrapuntal ensembles, I warmed more to Fergal O'Mahony's buzzy romcom Gutter Press – partly because of James Richards' witty rhyming schemes, partly because of the variety of textures in O'Mahony's instrumentation. Todd's forensic examination of collective self-interest on the night of Kitty Genovese's murder may be a more finished product, with a powerful cast led by Sophie Tehrani and Darren Charles, but its synthesiser and electric guitar accompaniment is bludgeoning.

For the rest, the most stimulating and refined work was neither an opera nor a musical but Michael Zev Gordon's A Pebble in the Pond – too subtle a work to fit the genre of melodrama, narrated here by Richard Suart, with blurred or sharp memories of klezmer, Bach, Chopin and café music conjured in the sheerest aphorisms for piano, clarinet, accordion, double bass and violin.

Put together on goodwill and good connections, with a colour-scheme borrowed from Godard's Le Mèpris, and a polaroid camera for period detail, Andy Staples's flighty, flirty 1960s production of Così fan tutte opened in Seillans, France before moving, for two nights only, to Shoreditch. An orchestra of single strings, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn brought Mozart's details into crisp focus, while conductor and fortepianist Graham Ross put some cute gags into the continuo recitative.

Staples kept the comedy fleet and sharp, albeit at the expense of pathos. Rhona McKail's heavy-drinking Fiordiligi and Martha Jones's saucy Dorabella were easy targets for Richard Latham's pettish, pouting Don Alfonso (here a hotel magnate), and his boyish puppets Ferrando (Tyler Clarke) and Guglielmo (Sam Evans). The victim here was Mary Bevan's Despina, bruised in love but brimming with sparkle, already a sophisticated comedienne and an elegant Mozartian.

Next Week:

Gingerbread and lentils are on the menu as Anna Picard binges on Hansel und Gretel and Chants d'Auvergne at the BBC Proms

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project