Photo: Chris Christodoulou

Prom 69: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

Mass in D, Op.123 (Missa solemnis)

Lucy Crowe (soprano), Ann Hallenberg (mezzo-soprano), Giovanni Sala (tenor) & William Thomas (bass)

Monteverdi Choir

Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 7 September, 2022
Venue: Albert Hall, London

This performance of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis was originally part of the season’s last-week line-up of serious music-making with visiting orchestras before the Last Night of the Proms’ fun and games. By accident – or perhaps by cosmic design – it turned out to be a Last Night of a very different order and significance. After the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II just an hour before the start of Thursday’s Prom, the Philadelphia Orchestra only played the UK National Anthem and Elgar’s Nimrod. Its second concert and the Last Night were cancelled.

So, no ‘Land of Hope of Glory’. Except that retrospectively there was. Beethoven’s Missa solemnis is about nothing other than the realm of hope and glory, with Beethoven straining to put his faith in humanity on an equal footing with the might of Christian orthodoxy, with both mutually nourished. This was something that Sir John Eliot understands with uncanny clarity, his finger on the pulse of the work’s grandeur, drama and intimacy, with the ORR, the forty-four-strong Monteverdi Choir and the four soloists negotiating details of tempo, scoring and expression with chamber-like ease; woodwind laying down colour over the strings, the brass crowning the big moments with electrifying results, the timpanist setting off volleys of rock-like rhythm; the Monteverdi Choir was at its most expansive, singing the Latin text as if it was its first language. This was the Missa solemnis at its mystical, visceral best.

Gardiner’s rhythmic bite in the ‘Gloria’ was one thing, but in the quieter moments the orchestra spaced harmony and colour with a unique, period vibrancy, and the moment at the end when the music goes into hyper-drive, the final, exposed choral shout of “Gloria” was sensational. Gardiner set quite a pace for the ‘Credo’, avoiding a familiar monumentalism and paying big dividends in the “Et incarnatus” section, the meeting of human and divine, ushered in with a Janáček-like rapture by Giovanni Sala. That was compounded later by the “Benedictus” section of the ‘Sanctus’, when Peter Hanson’s violin solo prepared the ground for the miracle of transubstantiation in playing of subliminal grace, guiding us into the work’s inner sanctum, then handing over to the four soloists led by Ann Hallenberg and William Thomas’s hushed and lovely singing. The soloists were placed in front of the chorus, behind the orchestra, plainly making the case that they are an extension of the choir, even if Lucy Crowe’s lovely soprano proposed operatic potential.

For judgement, intensity and bravura, this Missa solemnis was a triumph.

Photo: Mark Allan

Prom 67: Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Thomas Adès
Powder Her Face – Three-Piece Suite (Suite No.1)
Wynton Marsalis
Violin Concerto
Peter Grimes, Op.33 – Four Sea Interludes, Op.33a
West Side Story – Symphonic Dances

Nicola Benedetti (violin)

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Thomas Søndergård

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 6 September, 2022
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra filled the stage for an evening of précis suites from three big stage-works clustering round the magnum opus of the Violin Concerto by Wynton Marsalis, which had its world premiere in London (LSO, Gaffigan, Benedetti) in 2015, and it looks as though Marsalis has done a bit of editing – about eight minutes – but it still weighs in at a substantial three-quarters of an hour – perhaps Marsalis might make a suite from it.

He wrote it for Nicola Benedetti, and she is very persuasive in its huge range of styles and poetic viewpoints. She also made the soloist’s relationship with the orchestra rather like that of the viola in Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, a romantic loner let loose in a dreamworld, engaging with it then moving on. And Marsalis has been generous with his material in a fusion of Scottish folk music, blues, gospel, carnival, jazz and hoedown. Benedetti was at her most effective in the big cadenzas that emerge from the four movements, and her moments when she duets with a viola or wanders to the other side of the stage to a drummer and his drum-kit for a bit of a session had an unexpected urgency, as did the end, when she detached herself from orchestral worldly pleasures and just wandered off, as it were into the sunset, here back-stage.

Marsalis’s ambition is epic, but there are longueurs which no amount of fluency and craft can conceal. The folk elements that mark the opening dissolve into Copland reflectiveness and Ives hyperactive energy, and the RSNO and Thomas Søndergård proved bracingly adept at conveying that unique American grandeur, making the most of Marsalis’s primary-colour scoring and going for all the whistling, clapping, stampings and knockings required of the players with a will. It was all held together, and in many instances justified, by Benedetti’s grasp of – and perhaps patience with – Marsalis’s baggy vision, a long-distance triumph of memory, virtuosity and imagination.

This Prom had opened with the Three-Piece Suite Thomas Adès derived (in 2007) from Powder her Face, the 1995 Duchess of Argyll opera that put the twentyfour-year-old composer on the map. Adès expanded his original chamber score to full orchestra, and the RSNO players treated this later version with extreme subtlety, making the most of the music’s fractured dances, elusive scraps of melody and rhythmic virtuosity, with Søndergård releasing the score’s sleaze and glamour in equal measure.Søndergård then proved himself a consummate colourist in Britten’s Sea Interludes at their most impressionist, with wind-players and xylophone grading the quality of light like painters in an unusually restless performance of ‘Moonlight’. The last work was a full-blooded outing of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances, his (with Irwin Kostal & Sid Ramin) non-vocal compression of West Side Story, which goes for drama rather than big tunes – ‘Maria’ barely gets a look-in. The orchestration flatters players generously, there were echoes of Mahler in some of the brass writing, and the seven percussionists blew up quite a storm. As did the encore, RSNO horn-player Christopher Gough’s delirious Eightsome Reels.

Photo: Chris Christodoulou

Prom 59: London Philharmonic Orchestra – Edward Gardner conducts Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius

The Dream of Gerontius, Op.38

Gerontius – Allan Clayton
Priest / Angel of the Agony – James Platt
Angel – Jamie Barton

Hallé & London Philharmonic Choirs

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Edward Gardner

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 31 August, 2022
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

On paper, the text of Elgar’s Gerontius, extracted from John Henry Newman’s eponymous poem, promises little by way of drama or narrative – not much more, perhaps, than a poetic evocation of Christian beliefs about mortality and the nature of the soul. (As an attempt at literature, Newman’s total absorption of Catholic doctrine calls to mind Benjamin Jowett’s comment that his conscience was taken out and the Church put in its place.) But, married to the epic flow of Elgar’s score, the work becomes a compelling music drama, charting the psychological and emotional journey of an allegorical Everyman through death and beyond. 

Edward Gardner’s lithe reading brought out a due sense of narrative momentum and urgency by vividly highlighting a wealth of orchestral detail within an overall steady grasp of each Part’s continuous stream of music (given here without an interval, which also helped to sustain a unified trajectory). That drama was illumined further by the general transparency of the London Philharmonic’s playing, tending to sustain serenity and radiance, rather than a fateful, deathly pallor over the work. If, for Debussy, the score of Parsifal (a profound influence on the Elgar)was as though ‘lit from within’, then that was also true here.

The instrumental preludes to each Part were like small tone poems in themselves, the first opening with a hollow, but almost silken and consoling melodic line, before building up to an impassioned climax, more like a resumé of Gerontius’s life (a mini Tod und Verklärung as it were) than a fearful vision of impending judgement. At the opening of the second Part, as the soul of Gerontius arrives in Heaven to “hear no more the busy beat of time”, the music paradoxically evinced a dance-like rhythmic alacrity, very much bound up with Elgar’s notated 12/8 meter, evoking the freedom of a realm beyond space and time with a wispy, floating transparency in the strings. Many other felicitous details demonstrated the LPO’s attentiveness to the music – one memorable example from the strings, again, being the mysteriously distant but expansive chords accompanying a section of Gerontius’s opening monologue as he reflects on his departing life, presaging such visionary passages in scores by Charles Ives or Alan Hovhaness.

Allan Clayton gave a masterful account of the title role – or roles, seeing as it is divided between Gerontius’s dying human form and his eternal soul, sounding coolly and calmly vulnerable in the former case (if not particularly pained) but attaining a ringing urgency for his prayer ‘Sanctus fortis’; and aptly lean and disembodied in the latter. Jamie Barton – clad in a glittering gold dress as the Angel – was more strikingly extrovert, certainly in her upper range, cutting through with a certain degree of brittleness and voluptuousness in tone, though with a startling, almost Kundry-like shriek on the octave leap for one “Alleluia”. But lower down her vocal register was more generalised, if nobly expressive, inciting a warm line from the solo horn at the end of her first monologue. James Platt projected a booming, stentorian authority as the Priest in the first Part, a vocal dead ringer for John Tomlinson, but more assuringly lyrical as the Angel of the Agony in the second.

 Just as dramatically vibrant were the combined forces of the Hallé and London Philharmonic Choirs with precise and idiomatic ensemble work in their various guises as the Assistants to the dying Gerontius, the Choir of Angelicals, or the Demons. In the two great set choral pieces (Elgar of course right to confound the expectations of friends by not primly setting ‘Praise to the holiest’ to the existing hymn tune) they presented a solid edifice of sound, but also were dynamically responsive to the impetus of the music.

Overall this was a fresh, alert performance, happily avoiding sentimental religiosity on all counts.

Photo: Chris Christodoulou

Prom 42: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – Thomas Dausgaard conducts Sibelius and Nielsen – Jan Lisiecki Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4

Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.4 (The Inextinguishable)

Jan Lisiecki (piano)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 18 August, 2022
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This Prom came at the end of Thomas Dausgaard’s six years as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, with Symphonies by fellow Nordics Sibelius and Nielsen giving a clue to his favoured repertoire. In Sibelius’s Symphony No.7, that magically anticipated and withheld cadence to C-major, the SSO players showed again how thoroughly they have absorbed Dausgaard’s way into Sibelius with a sound as singular in its way as Colin Davis’s with the LSO and the same composer – an enigmatic sheen for the strings that can blow both warm and cold, beautifully recessed woodwind, and a subliminal power from the brass, all combining to evoke Sibelius’s long perspectives. Dausgaard knows how this music never needs to strain for its sense of inevitability and he resists the music’s cinematic allure, preferring a pliant dialogue and an effortlessly supple ensemble to show-off Sibelius’s transparent scoring. This suited the Seventh’s abstract appraisal of elemental remoteness and grandeur, played with an epic assurance that made its short duration seem timeless.

Jan Lisiecki replaced Francesco Piemontesi at dramatically short notice in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4, a work that in recent performances has been mined for its inward philosophical potential. Lisiecki was more extrovert, and the result was fresh and very satisfying, especially in the Furies-taming Andante when Lisiecki’s direct, uncomplicated poetic sense enhanced the music’s moments of drama and tragedy very effectively. His barely audible opening chord generated a graceful, quasi-period orchestral introduction, blown away by his upbeat bravura in his main entry. And Lisiecki had form when it came to luminous passage work, intoxicating phrasing and articulation, and an innate empathy for the music’s still moments. Dausgaard eloquently steered both orchestra and soloist through some hair-raising ensemble, particularly in those moments at the end of Lisiecki’s agreeably romantic cadenzas when he hands the reins back to the orchestra. Without being remotely flashy or impetuous, this was a bracing, deeply affectionate performance. Lisiecki’s limpid encore, Chopin’s Nocturne in C-minor, Op. posth., tactfully suggested where Beethoven was going rather than where he was coming from.

Nielsen is home territory for Dausgaard and for this orchestra. The ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony No. 4 promises a titanic surge of striving, which here didn’t quite happen. This, for me, is down to the music, which for all its eruptive energy is let down by its optimism – and this was Nielsen’s response to the First World War. The playing was masterly, the woodwind (impeccable in the Intermezzo) and brass in particular, but for all Dausgaard’s super-animated guidance, Nielsen’s advances to and retreats from climaxes didn’t always register, while the famous closing conflict between two sets of timpani fell flat. And the gimmick of having one of the timpani men, Alasdair Kelly casually dressed, making his way through the prommers to his set placed at the front-right of the Arena, just didn’t set off the indestructible – or so you would have thought – moment of high drama.

Photo: Chris Christodoulou

Prom 13: The Wreckers


The Wreckers – Cornish drama in three acts to a libretto by Henry Brewster [additional orchestrations by Tom Poster; sung in French with English surtitles by Melly Still]

Thirza – Karis Tucker
Pasko – Philip Horst
Laurent – James Rutherford
Marc – Rodrigo Porras Garulo
Avis – Lauren Fagan
Harvey – Donovan Singletary
Tallan – Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts
Jaquet – Marta Fontanals-Simmons

Glyndebourne Festival Opera
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Robin Ticciat

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 24 July, 2022
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Blown in like a storm petrel from deepest, darkest Sussex, Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers (or should that be Les Naufrageurs, given the decision to sing it in French?) returned to the Proms in its fullest form since Odaline de la Martinez conducted it at the Proms just shy of 28 years ago (31 July 1994).  

Not quite the rarity you might suppose (it was premièred in Leipzig and had at least two outings in London, the first conducted by Bruno Walter, no less, the second by Thomas Beecham), The Wreckers has had something of a chequered history, with perhaps its composer its worst enemy (stealing the parts and score after the Leipzig first performance because she was so unhappy with the cuts, so the rest of the run had to be cancelled).  Glyndebourne has gone back to original sources and fashioned a new edition, restoring the original French of Henry Brewster’s libretto and rescoring the portions that had been cut (Tom Poster – I presume the pianist – acting as Smyth’s belated amanuensis), so Melly Still’s 2022 production and this subsequent Proms performance was as close to a world premiere of Smyth’s original version as we’re ever likely to get.

Shore-set operas are not new – and Smyth’s magnum opus (1902-4) comes almost perfectly midway between Bizet’s exotic Les Pêcheurs de perles (1863) and Britten’s Peter Grimes (1944-5), with some similarities to both.  The denouement seems to transplant Verdi’s 1871 Egyptian tragedy northwest (with a shift of a few thousand years to boot): a veritable Aida-by-the-sea, on the rugged Cornish coast, ostensibly in the late 18th century.

One oddity is the French libretto.  The puritan fervour of the villagers seems unlikely in this romance language, and they do seem a fickle bunch, rather too gullible to believe their pastor, who has encouraged them to be wreckers in luring ships onto the rocks by dowsing the lighthouse beacon and then pillaging the cargo, and then suddenly to condemn him for being the traitor that has lit a separate beacon on the beach to ward off passing ships.   He remains silent, perhaps to save his young wife, Thirza (but why?  She makes it abundantly clear she dislikes him), so the scene is set for the best act, the third – a trial seen in a subterranean cave, where things really do come to a head.

From a comparison to the Conifer recording of the 1994 Proms performance (I was there!), it seems the bulk of the cut music is from the second and particularly third acts.  Now with this restoration the most convincing act is the final one, it’s where the focus of the chorus is at its best as it grows from unease and bewilderment to shifting condemnation.  There’s a great confrontation between Thirza and young rival for Marc’s love, Avis, where Smyth pulls out the most lyrical tune to swathe the cut and thrust of their accusations.  Until then, Marc’s Act I opener aside (which forms the softer second subject of the overture), most of the singing is more lushly accompanied recitative than anything like an aria.  The drama ratchets up in this final act, with the encroaching tide and sequence of revelations that – ultimately – condemn Marc and Thirza to a watery end.

From the overture’s initial rising, rousing theme to the pairs of tutti chords that end the drama, Robin Ticciati conducts Smyth’s music for all it is worth.  The Proms’ concert performance, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra paid dividends as the orchestra is one of Smyth’s heroes in this score.  The Overture and the atmospheric interlude preceding Act II, On the Cliffs of Cornwall – occasional visitors to this stage and series – are honourable seascape compatriots to Bax’s Tintagel and Britten’s Four Sea Interludes, and respond to being allowed out of an opera pit.  The storm motif enshrined in the rising opening returns again and again, often also as a musical embodiment of the villagers’ emotional torment, and there is much to persuade the ear in Smyth’s orchestrations (and Poster’s too: I could not tell a difference).

Ticciati also had the benefit of a strong cast, and if the ladies took top honours – particularly Lauren Fagan’s Avis and Karis Tucker’s Thirza (both Proms debuts) – that’s more to do with Smyth’s writing for the characters.  James Rutherford’s bluff lighthouse keeper Laurent, Philip Horst’s pastor Pasko and Rodrigo Porras Garulo’s Marc would have benefited with Smyth fleshing out their characters more and giving them much more lyrical lines.  

 With the orchestra pushed back up the risers, the action was played out on the forestage, and there was a powerful physical effect of a professional chorus singing straight out at the prommers.  Dressed in Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s postpunk shabby costumes – brandishing weapons and donning homemade masks when in wrecking mode – there was a fussiness that slightly marred comprehension, but at least we were saved the wafting four ‘dancers’ of the Glyndebourne production itself, which I had found an irritant.  The modern setting – for me – didn’t help the plot.  I suspect that if someone has the nerve to set it in historical times and also offer the complete version in a revised English translation, Smyth will be best served.  

Hopefully it won’t take another 28 years to grace another British stage or concert platform.  Given the relative dearth of British operas at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries, The Wreckers is an achievement to be celebrated – congratulations to Ticciati and Glyndebourne for paying its dues.

Ticciati continues his advocacy in Berlin on 25 September, when he conducts it with his Deutsches Symphonie Orchester forces, with largely the same cast.

Photo: Chris Christodoulou

Prom 5: BBC Philharmonic – Juanjo Mena conducts Bruckner & Bach – Lawrence Power plays MacMillan’s Viola Concerto

Bach, orch. Webern
Musical Offering – Ricercar a 6
Sir James MacMillan
Viola Concerto
Symphony No.6 in A

Lawrence Power (viola)

BBC Philharmonic
Juanjo Mena

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 18 July, 2022
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This Prom was to have featured the premiere of Cassandra Miller’s Viola Concerto, but the withdrawal of Omer Meir Wellber presumably necessitated the partial change in the programme. Juanjo Mena took up the reins, albeit still with Lawrence Power in a Viola Concerto. In this case James MacMillan’s work from 2013 proved a satisfactory complement to Bruckner’s Symphony No.6: both works share an outwardly lyrical and melodic profile, but shades of darker harmonies often offset the principal themes to make the emotional trajectory of each rather more complex and nuanced.

MacMillan’s Concerto is an essentially abstract work in the Classical three-movement form of fast (or at least moderate)-slow-fast. Mena conducted the BBC Philharmonic in a balanced and buoyant account, the instruments of the orchestra eloquently communicative with each other and with Power, be that in the ominously recurring (but inconclusive) cadential figure from the outset, the screaming inner voices of the piled-up texture of the first movement’s climax, or the fleet-footed string-laden whirl of the Cinale.

Power played with elegant facility, tending to emphasise the music’s lyrical nature with his bluesy, tender opening passage, a cleanly wistful cantilena for the songful and slightly uneasy slow movement (like Prokofiev or Shostakovich) and the Finale’s dash despatched with great levity and dance-like zeal (Power virtually dancing with the music at times). Although not at all playing over or against the orchestra, his performance often coursed along with a rhapsodic freedom that transcended the regularity of the barlines and binding the otherwise somewhat lurching contrasts in this score. The strange swooping harmonics like the unworldly, veiled calls of a bird in the second movement and the cadenza-like arpeggios of the Finale over the orchestra emerged naturally enough from the flexible control of his interpretation overall. A smoky, wispy haze attended the similar arpeggio figurations of the solo Imitation of the Bells by Johann Paul von Westhoff, given as an encore, somewhat like Casals’s Song of the Birdsor a more ethereal version of Tarrega’s Memories of the Alhambra.

The Concerto had been preceded by a reticent account of Webern’s pointilliste orchestration of the ‘6-part Ricercar’ from Bach’s Musical Offering. Despite the splintering of the contrapuntal lines among different timbres in this arrangement, and the odd portamento or sobbing oboe in performance, Mena drew a clear thread through the piece, mainly on account of the limited contrast of dynamics through the whole which had the effect of dampening the range of those sonorities somewhat.

In the most concise of Bruckner’s mature Symphonies – which Mena and the BBC Philharmonic recorded in 2012 and released recently – rhythmic alacrity was brought out not so much by a determined hammering out of the music’s pulse but rather by their crisp and lucid reading. In fact the first movement’s characteristic rhythm, as quietly announced at the outset, was not even very incisive but somewhat blurred, more like the mysterious, indeterminate tremolos of many of Bruckner’s other symphonic openings. If the second subject was more languid, and the development’s climax could have been more powerful, the steady meter sustained by Mena in this movement and subsequently (without a notable degree of rubato or use of ritardando) instilled an efficient and undeniable momentum of its own.

Clarity of texture, as opposed to massed sound for its own sake, counted for a great deal in making this a satisfying performance of the Symphony nonetheless. The grinding dissonances which result from the suspensions in the first movement’s climax generated quite awesome tension, and crucially the rippling trumpet and horn solos over the glowingly shifting harmonies of its coda were resplendent (too often overlooked by conductors, but not Jochum and the Staatskapelle Dresden, my benchmark for this and the Symphony overall for glorious sound and compelling drive). In the flowing (but not at all hasty) Adagio the oboe was expressively mournful and the strings warm. In the third movement it was the majestic horns (if a little brashly uneven at some points) that provided weightier contrast with its surrounding Scherzo sections, rather than the other way around. After the breezy indifference of the Finale’s opening, impetuous interjections from the brass kicked the movement into vibrant action, with the sweeping second subject maintaining purpose. Through Bruckner’s typically challenging changes of direction across the Symphony, Mena steered an unobtrusive but consistent and compelling course.

First Night of the Proms. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

BBC Proms 2022 – Verdi’s Requiem

Messa da Requiem

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), David Junghoon Kim (tenor) & Kihwan Sim (bass)

BBC Symphony Chorus
Crouch End Festival Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 15 July, 2022
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Verdi’s Requiem is no stranger to the First Night of the Proms and can work well in the cavernous and unpredictable acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall. What an individual looks for in a performance of this masterwork of the choral repertory is a personal one; this reviewer wants to find something revelatory – interpretive, choral or orchestral that makes the performance stand out afresh. Everyone wants that elusive perfect quartet of soloists, a chorus with fire, eloquence and great diction and above all a conductor and orchestra who can reveal the score’s felicities and sweep.

The audience took a while to really settle, meaning the hushed orchestral introduction was barely audible, but as soon as the murmured choral entry started things started to unfold. What was newly minted? Sakari Oramo’s reading steered a middle path, wasn’t overly Italianate, but had freshness, clarity and impact. The brass spatial effects were deftly managed, and the tempos set for the massed voices allowed the words to emerge without much congestion – notably in the ‘Sanctus’ which was paced to perfection. That revelatory moment was the end of the “Lacrymosa” section of the ‘Dies irae’ where the counterpoint melodies sung by the altos really sounded out against the dominant main tune first vocalised by the mezzo and then the bass. Great contribution from the combined choruses – warm, sprightly and every word crystal-clear. The ‘Pie Jesu’ followed organically, culminating in an expansive, dangerously close to indulgent, swell of an ‘Amen’.

The vocal quartet should have included Covid-struck tenor Freddie De Tommaso.  In his place was David Junghoon Kim, who started the ‘Kyrie’ in an overly robust and operatic way but who later settled to produce some lovely, honeyed tone as well as fervour in the ‘Hostias’. His singing of the ‘Ingemisco  tamquam reus’ was also impressive, and would have been more so had not the lighting technicians abruptly flicked the ‘fiery-red background effect’ switch just before its conclusion – a major and unwarranted distraction. Kihwan Sim’s fluid and attractive bass seemed a tad lightweight for this part and he sounded occasionally wayward of pitch. He’s clearly a talent to watch though. Jennifer Johnston was the warm-voiced mezzo; less dramatic, more restrained than some but wholly valid and appealing. She was the lynchpin of the quartet in their sole ensemble. However, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha made both a stunning and auspicious appearance. With bags of appeal and temperament she soared and declaimed as if possessed, and rode the huge forces behind her with consummate ease leaving us marvelling at the sheer opulence and potential of her voice.

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