BBC Proms reviews

Prom 21: OAE/Rattle @ Royal Albert Hall, London

1 August 2010

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Andy Paradise/Royal Albert Hall)

This was the ultimate in operatic foreplay Act II of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, given such a ravishing performance under Sir Simon Rattle and the OAE that one was left hankering for more. Alas no relief was forthcoming, so it was just me and the iPod who were left to finish off the business on the train home thank God Act III was on there because I just couldn’t have slept soundly without hearing that chord resolve. Damn that Wagner!

The main focus of interest for this performance was the fact that it was performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on original instruments I had envisaged crooked horns, and although they were used for the off-stage hunting posse, the ones in the orchestra were valved, as were the trumpets. Was there a noticeable difference? Maybe there was more clarity to the orchestral texture but I guess it’s a case of swings and roundabout, as what you gained in clarity you lost in orchestral sheen. The overall effect was however thrilling, but that was down to Rattle’s masterly handling of the assembled forces and a first-rate cast.

Violeta Urmana was a sensational Isolde, bitingly forthright as she extinguishes the torch and meltingly lyrical in the duet with Ben Heppners valiant Tristan. There were moments of unbridled Heldentenor splendour but he was prone to crack and wobble in some of the more exposed passages. In many ways he seems to have lost control of what was a fine instrument, which is a shame.

The most beautiful singing of the evening came from Sarah Connolly’s gloriously lyrical Brangne, especially in her warning, sung from high up in the choir is this the most beautiful music ever written? Very possibly. There was able support from Franz Josef-Selig’s cavernous Marke, each word weighed with due gravitas and Timothy Robinson made his mark as an oleaginous Melot. Next time though can we have the whole opera as this was very much a case of Tristan-interruptus?

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