BBC Proms reviews

Prom 46: CBSO/Oramo – The Apostles @ Royal Albert Hall, London

18 August 2007

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

In robbing the singers of much volume, the Albert Hall’s mischievous acoustic robbed Saturday evening’s Prom of immediacy.

Which is not ideal, since The Apostles is one of Elgar’s least performed works and, arguably lacking something with regard to dramatic cohesion, it needs a strong case made for it.To their great credit, the performers pushed and pushed and finally, as the evening drew to its close, the spark appeared.

The Apostles, completed in 1903 and forming Part One of an uncompleted ‘biblical’ trilogy, has its detractors, but here was an insightful performance, eager to convince of its own merits. Sakari Oramo drew the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra through a reading shapely of body, stylish of dress.

The orchestra played well, emphasising the sinewy textures that open Part Two, dragging one into Judas’ suffering through grotesquely plodding double bass pizzicatos and momentous timpani beats, nailing the thunderous brass and percussion chords that herald Judas’ death. Oramo paced steadily and phrased cleanly, emphasising the Wagnerian aspects of the score (for one, the sleep motif from The Ring lurks ominously around the backwaters of the work) and delving for great depth of sound. The City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus were secure and attentively musical, though some base power was lacking.

Alan Opie as Jesus was the pick of the soloists, perhaps predictably. At the start, he could hang dangerously around the bottom of the note, but as the evening progressed, his presence greatened and his delivery grew ever more eloquent. There’s a certain nasal quality in his aristocratic voice, but it never interfered on Saturday evening. Soprano Amanda Roocroft‘s airy, easy soprano effectively contrasted the rich, firmly-stated mezzo of Catherine Wyn-Rogers. Bass-baritone James Rutherford was a resonant, richly-hued Judas and Peter Rose‘s fierce, open-throated bass did its best to penetrate the acoustic. Surrounded by British soloists was American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, who sang pleasingly and communicatively, albeit with a certain cavernous throb through his registers.

The acoustic’s appetite was great, but if the venue took something from the live performance, Oramo and his team made you want to hear the work again in a more responsive, resonant hall. In that sense, the battle was lost but the war was won.

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