Proms 38 and 43, Royal Albert Hall, London
The truth about Hans and his mermaid
Sunday 21 August 2005
Instead, he has contextualised the fable of a mermaid who allows herself to be mutilated and silenced in order to win the love of a handsome prince, only to be rejected. Andersen wrote this disturbing story after the man with whom he was in love got married. The most durable of children's authors was bisexual, and the image of the mermaid forced to maintain silence in her beloved's presence was clearly a self-projection. At least that is how Sørensen presents it, placing the narrative alongside extracts from Andersen's diary that hint at his isolation.
The work uses a large orchestra, though with the greatest discrimination and restraint. Most of it is soft and delicate, calling upon the most refined textures to produce a translucent, aqueous sonic environment. Out of this arose the voice of the Mermaid, sung with crystalline purity by Inger Dam-Jensen. Andersen's doubts and torments, meanwhile, were whispered by the tenor soloist - the excellent Gert Henning-Jensen. The lasting impression is of Sørensen's immaculately crafted surfaces shimmering in the air without hiding the deeper, darker resonances at the heart of the piece.
Marc-André Dalbavie's Piano Concerto, played with the most authoritative of touches by Leif Ove Andsnes and the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Prom 43), is also primarily concerned with the sounds it makes. Various strong images - most prominently the soloist's cascades of double octaves - form its structural key points. What is missing is a sense of overall direction in a piece that borrows the standard concerto's broad outlines while jettisoning its traditional dramatic contrasts. Dalbavie comes up with several effective moments without, unfortunately, showing much ability to make them cohere into something larger. GH
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