Friday 3 August 2018

Prom 26: Late night Baroque queens at the Royal Albert Hall

BBC Prom 26 - Anna Prohaska, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
BBC Prom 26 - Anna Prohaska, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
(Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Purcell, Graupner, Sartorio, Cavalli, Hasse, Handel; Anna Prohaska, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 2 August 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Dido and Cleopatra take centre stage in a recital which mixed both well known and lesser known to vivid effect.

For the late-night BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 2 August 2018, soprano Anna Prohaska and Il Giardino Armonico, conductor Giovanni Antonini, took us on a tour of Baroque queens. Moving from Purcell's Dido to Handel's Cleopatra, the programme included a number of lesser known depictions of these two queens by Christoph Graupner, Antonion Sartorio, Francesco Cavalli and Johann Adolf Hasse, plus instrumental music by Matthew Locke and Dario Castello.

The Royal Albert Hall is not always an ideal venue for Baroque music, but both Anna Prohaska and Il Giardino Armonico took a highly characterful view of the music, giving strong performances which carried across the spaces.

Prohaska has a strikingly plangent voice and a strong technique, which she combined with an engaging physicality in performance. She also made the most of the words in a recital which encompassed English, German and Italian. In each language she clearly relished the words, giving text a priority and colouring, shaping and projecting it. Whilst her English was not completely idiomatic, it was fully comprehensible and highly expressive in a very personal way.

Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico proved apt partners, as Antonini took a highly interventionist view of the music, highlighting contrasts so that louds were loud, soft passages were hushed, phrases were highly shaped and pointedly accented. This was a very particular view of the music, but the rich sound and strong phrasing ensured that we heard highly characterful performances.

BBC Prom 26 - Anna Prohaska, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
BBC Prom 26 - Anna Prohaska, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)

We started with a sequence from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (from around 1689), first a very striking account of the overture which was quite far from the plain, unadorned Purcell of many interpretations, then Dido's 'Ah! Belinda, I am press'd with torment', with Prohaska creating a very dignified almost sculptural performance at quite a slow tempo.

Christoph Graupner's Dido, Queen of Carthage premiered in Hamburg in 1707. We heard the delightful 'Holdestes Lispeln der spielenden Fluthen', with the sweetest murmurs of rippling waters being echoed in the delightfully atmospheric and transparent orchestral writing which surrounded Prohaska's soprano, with Antonini play solo flute. Next came another rarity, Antonion Sartorio's Julius Caesar in Egypt which was written for Venice in 1676. Cleopatra's 'Non voglio amar' was a very sexy dance number, with plenty of stamping from the orchestra in the ritornelli and very sexy (and very elaborate) vocals.

Music from Matthew Locke's semi-opera version of The Tempest from 1674) came next. Depicting dramatic moments such as the storm conjured by Prospero, Antonini took the performance from very, very quiet and sustained to sudden dramatic eruptions, a highly personal view of Locke's music.

Another aria from Sartori's opera came next, and again it was a lively dance. This was a very catchy tune (and here Antonini played the recorder), whilst Prohaska was both technically brillinat and vividly engaging in her performance. Graupner's Dido, Queen of Carthage was in fact in two languages with dialogue in German and arias often in Italian, so we next heard a dramatic recitative (in German) leading to a slow, expressive Italian aria, 'Infido Cupido' and then a further aria for Dido from the opera, 'Agitato da tempeste'  with vivid orchestral ritornelli featuring strong attacks, and a striking and rather bravura vocal line which Prohaska fully engaged with.

Handel's Concerto grosso in C minor, Op.6 No.8 (from 1739) followed next; rather aptly this was the concerto grosso featuring Cleopatra's 'Piangero' from Julius Caesar in the Adagio. Antonini took a highly interventionist view of the music, moving from a lively, characterful 'Allemande' to a 'Grave' which accentuated the contrasts between soli and tutti. For the the whole piece, the fast movements were highly vivid and the slow ones full of contrasts and hushed moments. I have to confess that the results were a bit to contrived for my taste, and I would have liked a bit more classical purity in the performance, but there was no doubt of the brilliance of the performance.

Anna Prohaska then sang Cleopatra's 'Se pieta' from Julius Caesar, with a dramatic recitative followed by a poised and plangent account of the aria. In the Da Capo repeat her ornamentation included bending pitch for expressive purposes.

Dario Castello's gravely lyrical Sonata No. 15 in D minor (from 1629) was played by a small group of musicians, and this same group accompanied Prohaska in Dido's aria 'Il mio marito' from Francescao Cavalli's Dido, which was written for Venice in 1641. Preceded by an expressive recitative, this was a lovely aria, with a plangently expressive vocal line over a dance form in the accompaniment.

Johann Adolf  Hasse's serenata Mark Antony and Cleopatra was premiered near Naples in 1725, and it has remained one of Hasse's most enduring works. Prohaska sang Cleopatra's aria 'Moret col fiero aspetto', a fast and vivid piece which was taken at quite a fast tempo. The result was a bravura performance into which Prohaska really projected the emotions of the words.

The final sequence in the concert returned to Purcell. First the 'Chaconne: Dance for Chinese Man and Woman' from The Fairy Queen (1692), in a performance with a delightful bounce and swing to it, again full of contrasts. And then a pair of arias from Dido and Aeneas, first a plangent and passionate account of the Second Woman's 'Oft she visits this lone mountain', and then a highly expressive and beautifully shaped performance of Dido's Lament.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Into the mind of Bloody Mary: Martin Bussey & Di Sherlock's Mary's Hand (★★★½) - Opera review
  • Suppleness and elegance: a new Les Pêcheurs de Perles from an all-French team (★★★★★) - CD review
  • SWAP'ra gala at Opera Holland Park  - concert review
  • Enterprising rarity: Ethel Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate at Grimeborn (★★★½) - Opera review
  • Spinto showcase: Angel of Fire from Katerina Mina (★★★½) - CD review
  • Bernstein's problem child: a lively & engaging Candide at West Green House (★★★½)   - Opera review
  • Lucretia through a newcomer’s eyes and ears: Britten at the Grimeborn Festival (★★★½) - opera review
  • Prom 17: Parry, Holst & Vaughan Williams (★★★★) - concert review
  • Approaching Winterreise: Angelika Kirchschlager on performing Schubert's great song cycle  - interview
  • Richly Romantic: Mascagni rarity, Isabeau, brought to life at Opera Holland Park (★★★★½) - opera review
  • A disturbing journey: Schubert's Winterreise from Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake (★★★★★)  - concert review
  • Home

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