BBC Proms reviews

Prom 73: Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique / John Eliot Gardiner @ Royal Albert Hall, London

9 September 2011

Royal Albert Hall

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

This performance of Weber’s best-known work was its first ever at the proms, in any complete form – it might seem odd that for such a premiere the version given should be the adaptation by Berlioz, but if any such fears had been entertained they were soon banished with a performance which preserved all of the wild sweetness which Berlioz found in the music, whilst giving a different perspective on the style of Weber’s original.

Unlike many semi-staged performances, this one was brought to us from an actual production, at no less a venue than the Opéra Comique, and it certainly showed; every recitative tripped off the tongue, each singer was fully inside their role, the chorus achieved the kind of naturalness which only comes from extreme familiarity with the work, and the orchestra had space to relish the music.

Of course Freischütz is daft – perhaps more than most opera, and that’s saying something – but who cares, with characterizations as believable as those of Sophie Karthuser’s Agathe and Gidon Saks’ Gaspard? I knew that the former was a future star after just a few phrases of her singing in ‘Orfeo’ at La Monnaie, and she did not disappoint here, with both the prayer and dream arias sung with liquid tone and expressive delicacy.

Gidon Saks is always great value – he never fails to throw himself into any part he plays, and you get the sense that although he takes his music seriously, he reserves the right to keep a little of his tongue in his cheek when it comes to his characterization. His Gaspard was as vivid as you would expect – sometimes perhaps a little too much so – and he sang with declamatory strength and plenty of power in reserve.

Max is a little bit of a stretch for Andrew Kennedy; a Siegmund voice is what’s needed rather than a Tamino, and he did not always ring out with quite the clarion sound needed by certain lines. However, he presented a totally credible hero, and his phrasing, legato line and lyrical expressiveness offered much to savour.

Virginie Pochon and Luc Bertin-Hugault were the only two native French speakers amongst the (singing) cast, and it showed in their incisive diction and confident delivery of the roles of Annette and the Hermit. I’ve always found Annette/Annchen one of the most irritating characters in opera so it’s a compliment to say that Ms Pochon did not annoy me at all. Mr Bertin-Hugault looks far too young to be able to pontificate as an all-knowing holy man, but he did not let that prevent him from singing with the required gravitas.

The orchestra played with tremendous enthusiasm, and the Monteverdi choir clearly relished the opportunity to become forest creatures those owls were genuinely scary and the smaller parts were vividly presented, especially Matthew Brooks Kouno. Lets hope it wont be too long before the Proms brings us Weber’s original, in what will be yet another premiere.

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Prom 73: Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique / John Eliot Gardiner @ Royal Albert Hall, London