Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Purcell, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn

Purcell: Abdelazer – Suite
Handel: Xerxes – ‘Ombra mai fu’ Handel: Alcina – ‘Ah! Mio cor!’: Water Music – Suite No. 2 in D major
Haydn: Scena di Berenice

Mendelssohn: Symphony No.3 in A minor, ‘Scottish’

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Sir Roger Norrington
Joyce DiDonato – mezzo-soprano

Prom 53 Royal Albert Hall – 25 August 2009

Tonight’s concert was the only prom to bring together the music of all four ‘composers of the year’ – composers whose significant birth or death anniversaries are being celebrated this year.

Purcell’s Abdelazer Suite includes the striding Rondeau made famous by Britten as the main theme in his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Sir Roger made a rather annoying habit, which I found rather patronising, of turning to the audience for a sign of recognition when he thought we should know the music. The most touching moments of the programme were indeed ones which were new to me and obviously still thrilling for the orchestra such as the moving Hornpipe.

Joyce DiDonato is beautiful to watch and utterly charming on stage whether in concert or in an operatic performance. She brought drama and vibrancy to the Royal Albert Hall on what otherwise would have been a rather pedestrian evening. Her ‘Ombra mai fu’ was poised, elegant and engaging, after the audience had earned Sir Rogers nod of approval for murmuring their appreciation of the piece... Alcina’s devastatingly beautiful ‘Ah! Mio cor!’ showed us exactly why Ms DiDonato is such a huge star. She took us through every extreme of human emotion without ever straying from the tasteful and sublime.

More hits followed, this time for solo orchestra again with the Water Music (possibly Handel’s own compilation of his most popular tunes from various Royal Entertainments). The OAE brass had their chance to shine and created an atmosphere where it was possible to imagine the Royal barge floating down the Thames to the strains of Handel’s orchestral melodies. Ms DiDonato reappeared (there were audience mutters of dissappointment that she did not take the opportunity to change her dress) to sing the little known Scena di Berenice by Haydn. A Scena at the time was a scene from an opera libretto reset as a concert showpiece to exhibit the talents of both composer and singer, in this case Metatstasio's text from Antigono, a favourite Scena, set over 40 times in the latter half of the 18th century. Again, DiDonato was fiery and utterly engaging.

Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony (welcome programming after an overly long first half – one wonders if the Water Music was necessary at all) ended an entertaining evening, the music making dramatically increased each time Ms DiDonato took to the stage. Which isn’t to say the orchestra weren’t ‘englightening’ on their own.

Tess Ormond