BBC Proms Review, The Independent

Posted on July 28, 2009

Manchester Camerata at the Proms reviewed in The Independent

“Little more than a week after the first blast of Stravinsky’s Fireworks (Prom 1), the BBC Proms is part of everyday life. I’ve cooked to The Creation (Prom 2), ironed to Partenope (Prom 3), cleaned to the Eton Choirbook (PCM1) and cooked again while Listen(ing) Again to The Fairy Queen (Prom 7). Even accompanied by a hissing iron or a bubbling risotto, the sound is usually clearer than it is in situ, and there is something very special about this private yet communal listening experience. But I doubt a radio could have captured the acoustical effect of a packed audience barely daring to breathe during Bernard Haitink’s performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra (Prom 5). Now frail, Haitink seems more than ever to close in on himself when conducting late Mahler, barely moving his baton. Though the Ländler and Rondo-Burleske lacked bite, the architecture of the first and last movements was exquisite, understated, elegaic. The same night’s pairing of the 1796 choral version of Haydn’s Seven Last Words with James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words (Prom 6) saw some beautifully measured musicianship from Manchester Camerata and the BBC Singers under Douglas Boyd, though the consonants were lost to an almost empty hall. Il terremoto excepted, the contrast between Haydn’s unshowy solemnity and MacMillan’s cinematic effects – variously luminous, pure and static, or unnervingly violent in rasping whispers and swarming strings – was fascinating. If Hollywood hasn’t knocked on MacMillan’s door, it should.

There’s barely space to mention Blackheath Halls production of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, but Elaine Tyler Hall’s staging of this community project was so perceptive I have to squeeze it in. With Aaron Marsden and Marc Rosette’s austere, evocative stage and lighting designs, a central performance of exceptional pathos from Wendy Dawn Thompson (Orpheus), a robust reading of the score from the amateur orchestra and chorus under Leigh O’Hara, and fabulous choregraphy from Stella Howard and the Laban Youth Dance Company, this was powerful stuff. You don’t go to an amateur show for perfect tuning and perfect attack. But, Mariachi trumpets notwithstanding, Blackheath had the measure of Gluck’s matchless concentrate of mourning and redemption.”

Anna Picard, The Independent
Saturday 25 July, 2009

This is an extract taken from the article entitled: ‘Un ballo in maschera, Opera Holland Park, London. Proms 5 & 6, Royal Albert Hall, London. Orpheus and Euridice, Blackheath Halls, London’. To read the article in full on The Independent’s website, click here.