Proms 52-55 | Royal Albert Hall, London/Radio 3

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

A period instrument band in the Albert Hall sounds like a "modern" orchestra in Alexandra Palace: remote. But at least the compact forces of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment seemed better balanced than big orchestras often do in this quirky building.

A period instrument band in the Albert Hall sounds like a "modern" orchestra in Alexandra Palace: remote. But at least the compact forces of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment seemed better balanced than big orchestras often do in this quirky building.

From my seat, the woodwind came over beautifully, and it was fun to hear a hapless horn player on a "natural" instrument make an honest hash of the Trio section in the third movement of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony - a welcome change from the cautious crooning of valve horns today. But Haydn's "Trauer" Symphony had neither "Sturm" nor "Drang" until the final Presto, thanks to Louis Langree's bland conducting.

The real star of the evening was the coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay, though she messed about so much with the programme that no one in the hall knew quite what she was going to sing. All the better to knock us for six with both Queen of the Night arias from Mozart's The Magic Flute - not just dead accurate but blooming in the topmost register like a flower reaching for the sun.

On Friday Ivan Fischer conducted his Budapest Festival Orchestra in a well-drilled performance of Bruckner's Third Symphony. The whole string section and trombones in staggered strides rang out splendidly in the finale - fortunately played in the final revision, whose great virtue is its abruptness. Bruckner was a master in dispensing with transitions. A cynic once dismissed Bruckner as being all about "uplift", yet somehow this performance struck me as chilly and ruthless, a case, perhaps, of efficiency killing the spirit.

Why Ann Murray was asked to sing Wagner's Wesendonck Songs beats me. She did a good professional job, as usual, but her voice simply wasn't ample or sumptuous enough, and she seemed to have no special rapport with this orchestra or conductor: "Träume" was dispatched almost briskly.

Much better chest notes were heard from Nathalie Stutzman in the late night Prom on Friday. Not that she had all the range of colour or quite the power that Radio 3 announcers boasted of not only during but - rashly - before the broadcast. She was, after all, singing arias designed for the legendary castrato Senesino, though lots of amateurs used to sing Bertarido's aria from Rodelinda to the words "Art thou troubled? Music will calm thee." I can't believe that this was its first performance at the Proms.

Arguably, amateurs are the best people to perform Gilbert and Sullivan, since the music is perfectly tailored, instantly gratifying and the words pointed. Iolanthe was given a new slant on Saturday by Ian Hislop's narration, made much of by Ian Richardson, with predictable topical references and the inevitable double-entendre about fairies. A field day for fogeys.

Radio 3 will rebroadcast Proms 52 (OAE/Dessay) and 53 (Budapest FO/Murray) on Wednesday and Thursday respectively at 2pm

Comments