Prom 24: English Concert / Manze <br/> Prom 25: London Sinfonietta / Knussen, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Tuesday was double-dose day with Proms 24 and 25 each presenting a single massive vocal work and each a Proms "first". But neither was really satisfying. Mozart's take on Handel is not top-drawer Mozart and Alexander's Feast is not top-drawer Handel. Mozart's re-orchestrating of Handel's score is significant because it would have been inconceivable in performance to adopt Handel's way of doing things. By reorchestrating it, Mozart was bringing it up to date. But what a Humpty Dumpty performance we heard. Here was the (greatly expanded) English Concert, one of our best-known period-instrument bands, and its choir, performing Handel on authentic instruments as Mozart might have heard it.

Mozart's main change to the original was in the wind scoring: out went antique recorders and in came flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets. But in this performance, under Andrew Manze, time and again the distinctive sound of these authentic instruments was drowned. The soprano Sally Matthews was sublime, her creamy sound and purity of pitch awesome, the bass Roderick Williams was clear and dependable, and the large chorus was magnificent. Only Paul Agnew disappointed: his pitch and musical inflections were occasionally wayward. The printed text was also wayward, the words not always matching those sung - a programme-book blunder.

The late-night concert marked Hans Werner Henze's 80th year with a performance by the London Sinfonietta under Oliver Knussen of his massive Voices, a collection of songs for two vocalists and instrumental groups. I was at the premiere of this work in 1973 and remember being moved by the variety of poetry - bitter and ironic - the settings, and exotic scoring. Now it seems dated, long (the 22 songs lasting more than 100 minutes) and uncommunicative. Perhaps Shostakovich has captured political irony, not needing to ape Kurt Weill as Henze does in admittedly some of his stronger settings of Bertolt Brecht. Mary King brought drama and perception to the work, but Christopher Gillett was twodimensional, his voice lacking variety. Both were hampered by not facing the audience.

BBC Proms to 9 September (020-7589 8212; www.bbc.co.uk/proms)

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