Proms 2, 3 & 4: Gabrieli Consort/Stan Tracey/ Concerto Copenhagen, Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 22 July 2009
Paul McCreesh was always bold, but taking Haydn's Creation by the scruff of its neck was an exploit that takes some beating. First, he delivered sections of it accompanied by a string quartet at the Royal Academy, then he gave it with a massively augmented Gabrieli Consort at a Prom. Fair enough: Haydn wanted his masterpiece to be done small as well as big, and his preference was for big. But McCreesh's real coup was to rewrite the original English libretto, wisely keeping those hallowed phrases which have entered the language – "with verdure clad", "the flexible tiger" – and simply making the rest more singable.
The opening was magical, with clarinet, flute and horn making brief solo appearances in a world where everything was in a hushed state of becoming: its explosion into life, as the word "light" was sung, was the first of many spine-tingling moments. The next of these was tenor Mark Padmore's ringing entrance as Uriel, and when the soprano Rosemary Joshua (singing Raphael) opened her mouth, we were truly in the Garden of Eden. Her pure voice, and the echoing space into which she projected it, seemed made for each other. When Adam and Eve, in the shape of Peter Harvey and Sophie Bevan, finally came on stream, it was with a gorgeously sung duet.
Since McCreesh's intention had been to recreate the world of the 18th-century big band, the Prom which followed was perfectly apropos, with Stan Tracey and his orchestra giving us his 1986 classic, Genesis. Led by Tracey's big-boned interventions on the piano, this orchestra of soloists delivered his magisterial sequence with an inventiveness which never flagged.
Under the mercurial leadership of Lars Ulrik Mortensen with his period-instrument Concerto Copenhagen, Handel's gender-bending opera Partenope drew a lot of laughs. Most of these were generated by the two counter-tenors who dominated the evening – Christophe Dumaux, whose singing had a wiry delicacy, and Andreas Scholl, whose sound had its customary serene perfection. Inger Dam-Jensen was radiant in the title role, but her coloratura flights tended to get lost in the dome.
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