BBC Proms reviews

Prom 52: OAE/FBO – Handel, Purcell and Telemann @ Royal Albert Hall, London

23 August 2007

Royal Albert Hall

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

Baroque fever is increasing its grip on the music world and this summers festivals are no exception, though the Proms have made few concessions in their own programme. It’s understandable: the Royal Albert Hall was designed without early music sympathies. The heavy-handed organ Largo was then considered preferable to authentic chamber concertos or intimate arias.

Prom 52, however, more than made up for the lack of it with an exceptional line-up of British talent. We began with Handels Concerto a due cori No.2 in F major in a collaboration between members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.

The acoustic effects were predictable: the strings lacked clarity and horns tended to dominate, but the wind section were audible enough to highlight a wonderfully florid oboe contribution. The work benefited from rich but measured direction from OAE’s first violinist Rachel Podger who, with her energetic style and fiery auburn hair, looked like the UKs answer to Emmanuelle Haim.

The next section, a Sett of Favourite Airs, Fantasies and Dances by Purcell and devised by Catherine Mackintosh, was played by OAE members, again under Podger’s direction. Part of the delight of these little pieces was in their contrast. A Fantazia upon one note for example, languid, pretty and indulgent, was followed by the stately Rondeau (Abdelazar), and the Baroque pizzazz of the Air (Abdelazar) tempered by a meditative Pavan in B flat major.

Ian Bostridge is the latest in a long line of singers to release a Handel compilation album and for this concert he was joined by the young British soprano Kate Royal, with whom he collaborated for the CD. They are something of a golden couple in performance (both might appear rather waif-like but they conveyed a great sense of stage presence) and last night they offered four delectable fragments of Handel to a rapturous audience.

Eternal source of light divine from the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne is surely some of the most exquisite four minutes of music that Handel ever wrote, and Royal delivered accordingly. Her glorious singing was both poised and alluring, and beautifully shadowed by David Blackadder on the trumpet against a gentle orchestral background.

Bostridge’s solo performance of Love sounds the alarm from Acis and Galatea was confident and vital, though some might argue chilly in tone. But As steals the morn, a sublime duet from the secular oratorio L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato was sensitively sung, and moving in its intensity.

The night ended with an unashamedly grandiose performance of Handels Music for the Royal Fireworks in a vast FBO and OAE collaboration. The timpanis were granted an elevated position, visually and audibly, and the orchestra under Gottfried von der Goltz‘s direction were bold and bright. Finally the RAH backdrop lighting (which spans all the colours of a lava lamp) had found a fitting piece.

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