Prokofiev’s ballet score for 'Cinderella' had to wait nearly seventy years for its Proms premiere, and one had to wonder whether - at 105 minutes and without a visual component - it might be over-long.
We needn’t have worried: Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra ensured that interest never flagged, giving an evening every bit as satisfying as a night at the ballet. Indeed, with its echoes of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, this work is up there with Tchaikovsky’s ballets: high-spirited and brightly-coloured, it rings the changes so vividly between delicacy, tenderness, wry wit, and bounding excitement that one can readily imagine the princess, her ugly stepsisters, and the set-piece dances at the ball.
Each number is sharply characterised, with the key solos going to clarinet and flute. The evening’s highlights included a separate brass section up in the gods unexpectedly answering the brass section on stage, but the climax to Act 2 - when twelve wood-block ‘dwarfs’ represent the clock striking twelve - was a musical coup de theatre, and Cinderella’s final Amoroso rose to heaven in a scatter of gold-dust from the celesta.
Anyone who still thinks ‘early music’ is a specialised minority game should have seen the full hall for the evening’s late Prom, in which Robert Hollingworth and his I Fagiolini a cappella group eschewed their customary theatricality and joined forces with the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble plus The City Musick, to present a glittering simulacrum of a 1612 Vespers, including two imaginative reconstructions by Hugh Keyte of lost works.
Hollingworth prefaced the concert with an interesting observation: he didn’t propose to position his choirs at all points round the hall, as was usual with such music, because in his view 17th century Italian composers wrote a form of choral chamber music which required their singers to listen to each other closely.
These performers were in constant movement as they switched formation for works by Lodovico Viadana, Giovanni Bassano, Alessandro Grandi, Gabrieli, and Monteverdi himself, with some pieces being rarities. In this first-rate concert, two performances stood out: Monteverdi’s ‘Salve regina’ thrillingly sung by tenors Nicholas Hurndall Smith and Matthew Long, and Clare Wilkinson’s rendering of Viadana’s ‘O dulcissima Maria’, exquisitely intimate, yet with every word carrying to the skies.