BBC Proms reviews

Prom 32: BBC Philharmonic/Noseda @ Cadogan Hall and Royal Albert Hall, London

6 August 2007

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

Renée Fleming is a bona fide diva and, true to the nature of the type, she has the capacity to either thrill or disappoint. Her appearance at this year’s Proms was bound to excite interest and disappoint she did not.Topped and tailed with symphonies by Beethoven and Schumann, she rose to the occasion and delighted the capacity crowd.

The BBC Philharmonic under its agile new Principal Conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, began the concert with that fierce little beast, Beethoven’s Eighth. If the Choral Symphony, which followed a decade later, is a magnificent firework display, the F Major is a firecracker and Noseda’s account fizzled and spat with tremendous energy and, arguably, too little legato much of the time.

Looking every inch the part of the star performer, Fleming then took the platform and was in ravishing voice for Berg’s Seven Early Songs (unaccountably joined after the fifth by an extra one, Christopher Gordon’s 2006 orchestration of “An Leukon”). If Berg’s luminous sound pulled on the heart strings, Korngold’s luscious lyricism did so much more overtly. Two arias (one from Die Kathrin and the other Das Wunder der Heliane) by the composer of cinematic stage works and operatic film scores were beautifully illuminated by Fleming’s sensuous tone, leaving the audience gasping for more.

With the departure of the lady (and some of the audience with her), the orchestra concluded with another German symphony, Schumann’s lesser-performed Second. If this is Beethoven with the edges rounded-off, it is highly attractive music and Noseda and his Manchester forces gave an immaculate performance. There was a particularly picturesque Second Movement and a thrilling final Allegro, topping off a strangely-balanced but enchanting evening.

The gifted Henschel Quartet tackled two of the 20th Century’s major works for this week’s Proms Chamber Music recital at Cadogan Hall. Sibelius’ only mature chamber work, the String Quartet Op.56, “Intimate Voices”, has fast movements recalling the composer’s earlier works and an opening Andante and 3rd Movement Adagio, the great still centre of the piece, every bit as soulful as the Third and Fourth Symphonies that lie either side of it. Violist Monika Henschel-Schwind suggested in an interview prefacing the performance that the work reveals its treasures on the tenth hearing; with precise and impassioned playing, the ensemble gave a convincing taste of what better acquaintance holds in store.

Janacek’s first quartet, “The Kreutzer Sonata”, redolent of both Beethoven and Tolstoy, sees the master of drama drive his themes through at quite a lick, (no fewer than three of the movements are marked con moto). The Henschels (three siblings and a friend) made a satisfying lunchtime excursion through these gloomy landscapes sprinkled with brief bursts of sunlight.

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