Wednesday 8 September 2010

Prom 70

To the Albert Hall on Monday for the late night Prom, when French counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky and Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux gave a programme of baroque arias, accompanied by Ensemble Matheus directed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi. Spinosi and his ensemble were making their Proms debut and when it came to the Albert Hall acoustic, Spinosi took no prisoners. He and Jaroussky opened with Empiro, diro, tu sei, from Handel's Giulio Cesare, taken at an alarming pace. Jaroussky has proved in the past that he can sing this type of music very fast and with great bravura, but there was a feeling that the notes from him and the ensemble somehow came so fast they just skated off the tricky acoustic. This was followed by an aria from Vivaldi's opera La fida ninfa, sung by Lemieux; in this Spinosi and his ensemble spun a magically fine web of notes that was, at times, barely audible.

After these two acoustic shocks, my ears gradually attuned and I came to enjoy the performances, though I still felt as if I was listening at the wrong of the telescope so to speak.

The full programme consisted of just the one Handel aria, one aria by Porpora, four arias by Vivaldi from both La fida ninfa and Orlando Furioso, including Orlando's mad scene. The evening concluded with a pair of duets by Vivaldi. Interpolated into this was Telemann's concerto in E minor for recorder and flute, and Vivaldi's Concerto in D major for two violins.

Though there were many good things in the concert, somehow it did not quite hang together as an event. Perhaps we should have had all Vivaldi arias, or a rather better balance between composers. And I couldn't help feeling that if Lemieux sang Orlando's mad scene from Vivaldi's opera, then Jaroussky should have given us Handel's version of the same event. The cohesiveness of the evening was not helped by the yawning gaps between pairs of arias, there seemed a lot of going on and off for the soloists. Groups could learn a lot from William Christie's programmes of baroque excerpts where all the singers stay on stage and items pass seamlessly from one to another.

The group's performing style is highly coloured, with Spinosi a hyperactive stage presence, this led to many moments when I found his technique over invasive and simply wanted him to let the music alone. This was particularly true in the recitative opening Orlando's mad scene where the double bass player providing the continuo seemed to be encouraged to play in as highly coloured and stylised manner.

The evening finished with a pair of duets by Vivaldi which were delightful musically, but Jaroussky and Lemieux were encouraged to camp things up. This was much enjoyed by the small-ish audience, but I kept feeling that less would have been more. Or perhaps it was just the late hour getting to me.


  1. Robert, I think the late hour must indeed have been getting to you: myself and reviewers from the national press enjoyed 80mins of pure magic, yet somehow you have managed to find fault with the tempi, dynamics, programme, attendance, stage management and conducting style. Maybe an afternoon nap might help.

  2. Alas, I think that you might be correct, I'm not sure that late night Proms are good for my system. But, I must confess that the review was perhaps more dyspeptic than it could have been.


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