qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

  • Music:

Handel With Care

As the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra made their way on to the stage, one of the violinists commented to the front rows of the arena, "we seem to be at the same dinner table". I suppose the Proms are just as much of an event from on the stage as in the audience.

The concert began with Rameau's suite Les Paladins, which was completely new to me but very pleasant to listen to. A mixture of moods, some lighter than others but never very heavy. Conductor Nicholas McGegan, with a figure and manner rather reminiscent of the Frasier character Gil Chesterton, bounced around on the rostrum; I'm not sure about the earth, but the floor certainly moved for me a couple of times. A ripple of applause after the overture was met with some sniggering from the cognoscenti in the audience, but then a short and warm round of applause discharged the moment. The orchestral sound was interesting to compare to the Purcell of two weeks earlier: although on period instruments, a much richer sound produced by a slightly larger orchestra.

In the pieces either side of the interval, tenor John Mark Ainsley sang arias by Handel and Rameau. His tone was very well cast to the hall, and enthusiastically received by the audience.

Finally, the orchestra performed Handel's Water Music suite. I remember a year or two ago a TV programme with Andrew Manze and Peter Ackroyd attempting to reconstruct an authentic performance of the Water Music. One of their concerns was how well the music would be heard as the boats were spread across the Thames. kharin also recalled an article describing the difficulty of putting a harpsichord on board a boat. While there is no problem in placing a harpsichord in the Royal Albert Hall, there is a similar difficulty for a small orchestra to generate enough sound to fill the space. While generally adequate, in the early movements of the suite the horn sound was rather modest; and in the penultimate movement, there were some breakages in the sound, and one passage dissolved completely. It's a very challenging task to fill the hall with sound on these challenging period instruments and whilst it did disappoint momentarily, it shouldn't detract from the performance as a whole.

I dithered about whether to attend the late night Prom - Weill and Berio. The first I was keen to hear; for the second I had no great enthusiasm, and taken as a whole the concert would provide transport difficulties and the prospect of not getting back to Reading before 1am. I considered the option of exiting between pieces, but feared the possibility of getting as far as a notice proclaiming 'these doors are alarmed' in the warren of passages within the Hall. So in the end we made our return after only the first concert, and I contented myself with Radio 3's listen again.
Tags: music
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