Concert Review - George Hall Proms 53 & 54 - OAE/Norrington; Michael Nyman Band
Guardian : Aug 27th, 2009
Roger Norrington’s Prom with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment managed the feat of combining all four of this year’s major composer anniversaries into one event.
A suite of pieces from Purcell’s incidental music to Aphra Behn’s tragedy Abdelazer was neatly despatched, if with no special sense of character. Handel followed, with Joyce DiDonato the starry mezzo soloist in two well-known arias, Ombra Mai Fù from Xerxes and Ah! Mio Cor! from Alcina. DiDonato’s expressivity was strongly motivated in both, though the top half of her voice lacks the solidity of tone that makes the bottom half so potent. She had a harder task with Haydn’s Scena di Berenice, a worthy rather than exciting concert aria to which she brought plenty of intelligent commitment without proving able to set the piece alight.
In both the suite from Handel’s Water Music and Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, which formed the second half, the playing could have been cleaner and more focused; even Norrington’s customary impetus seemed restrained in the symphony, exposing the unevenness of Mendelssohn’s inspiration in the piece itself.
Ombra Mai Fù turned up again in the late-night concert, given by the Michael Nyman Band, as part of source material drawn from Handel as well as Purcell in Nyman’s new commission, The Musicologist Scores – its title a reminder that he had a prehistory in editing Baroque music before resuming his own distinctive compositional course.
More intricate than the 1980s film score material surrounding it in this programme, the piece covered a slightly wider harmonic and textural range, including a bizarre, quasi-Palm Court rendition of Handel’s most famous aria, without disengaging from the manic high-energy soundworld they occupy with such resilient, not to say head-banging punchiness.