BBC Proms reviews

PCM 8: Le Poème Harmonique @ Cadogan Hall, London

6 September 2010

For the final lunchtime Proms Chamber Music concert of the season, Le Poème Harmonique treated us to a snapshot of Venetian musical life from the first half of the 17th century, from the streets to the palaces. The curtains of Cadogan Hall were shut for the performance the groups general manager spoke on stage beforehand of the importance of recreating something of the atmosphere of a Venice palazzo and all illumination was provided by candles.

Vincent Dumestre, director of Le Poème Harmonique, and stage director Benjamin Lazar have followed up their previous collaborations with this staged chamber event, which was intended as a continuous, uninterrupted performance, and what impressed above all was how slick it all was. The controlled use of gesture by the singers was allied to an imaginative use of the Cadogan space, as well as the drama of flames bursting up from the stage to signify a break between the more refined pair of Monteverdi numbers at the start and the more raucous street music that followed.

Quite simply, this was stunning, visually and aurally, from Monteverdis Lamento della ninfa through to Francesco Manellis parody of an overloaded Venetian victuals boat and the madness that ensues when the ships cat interrupts the feasting. Tenors Jan van Elsacker and Serge Goubioud teamed up as a sort of straight man/funny man act throughout the night, the former beginning proceedings with a haunting Dormo ancora? from Monteverdis Ulisse, while the latter attempted to restore some order to the chaos of the aforementioned boat caused by the superb Arnaud Marzorati, whose seemingly bottomless bass gave us drunkard, Neapolitan, and a whole host of other characters.

Not that the street music was all high-spirited: songs of love and loss and betrayal were woven in, too, with Claire Lefillitre giving us a quasi-mad scene in two monodies by Benedetto Ferrari, and all three men pouring out their sorrows in more Manelli. But the final word was had by an anonymous hymn to the joys of living well, and the groups infectious enthusiasm ensured that the audience left feeling on top of the world.

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PCM 8: Le Poème Harmonique @ Cadogan Hall, London