Prom 2: BBC Concert Orchestra/Maida Vale Singers/Mackerras <br></br> Prom 3: Gabrieli Consort & Players/McCreesh, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

So we were denied such weird apparitions. Yet Paul McCreesh's Gabrieli Consort, embarking on the Proms' "fairy tales" theme with a riveting performance of Purcell's "semi-opera" - a series of musical interludes woven round a 1692 staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream - denied us none of the magic. Here was a feast for the imagination.

"Let them sleep till break of day," sings the chorus closing Act I. Slumber seemed the keynote of this mesmerising performance. What McCreesh set out to capture with his period ensemble was a web of gossamer sound to mirror the fantastic nocturnal goings-on of Shakespeare's play.

Cheered by the joyous bustle of an Act IV prelude, Purcell's text pays homage to the spirit of Masque, amid occasional seedy irruptions: a tormented "scurvy poet" (Jonathan Best); or a scurrilous, romping eclogue (Best and Mark le Brocq) for a shepherd and shepherdess.

The rest, staged with charming restraint by Kate Brown, was utter delight: gorgeous off-stage sopranino recorders for Charles Daniels's "Come all ye songsters"; pindrop pianissimi; muted strings for Night's aria, or the unalloyed beauty of Mhairi Lawson's hilarious winged Cupid aria. Pure enchantment.

HMS Pinafore, with which Sir Charles Mackerras, just announced as first recipient of the Queen's Medal for Music, launched the Proms' "sea" theme, was riproaring and rumbustious. We could scarcely be farther removed from The Fairy Queen's nocturnal underworld.

Before Pinafore we had glorious playing by the BBC Concert Orchestra of the Yeomen of the Guard overture and Mackerras's own G&S-based ballet suite, Pineapple Poll, with brilliant sectional contrasts rounded off by a sizzling finale.

HMS Pinafore is a priceless patchwork. Not so much here for Kit Hesketh-Harvey's racy linking text (with swipes at John Prescott) as for the delicious twaddle of Neal Davies's Captain Corcoran and the mock-pathos of Felicity Palmer's remorseful Buttercup. Top notch.

These Proms can be heard online at www.bbc.co.uk/proms

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