Prom 6 – Celebrating Corelli

Concerto Grosso in D, Op.6/4
Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op.6/8 (Christmas Concerto)
Silete venti §
Dixit Dominus

Sarah Fox (soprano) §
Julia Gooding (soprano)
Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Le Brocq (tenor)
Matthew Hargreaves (bass)

Choir of The English Concert
Chorus of The Academy of Ancient Music
The English Concert
The Academy of Ancient Music
The Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra
Andrew Manze (director / violin)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 22 July, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Amidst the plethora of composer-anniversaries this year (and I forgot to mention in my review of The Nation’s Favourite Prom the centenary of Aram Khachaturian’s birth), there is the 350th-birthday of Arcangelo Corelli.As it happened, Prom 6’s Baroque extravaganza offered us two of the twelve Concerti Grossi that were published the year after the composer’s death – less than half-an-hour’s of music. Apart from Op.6, Corelli’s other works are not suitable to the expanses of the Royal Albert Hall. Regrettably, the Chamber Music Proms at the V & A are devoid of Corelli.

There used to be a joke that there was only one ’early instrument band’ – Norrington, Gardiner, Hogwood et al shared the same pool of players. I mused before this concert that its claim to be an amalgamation of two established period-instrument ensembles would simply result in a normal size outfit!I was pleasantly surprised to see 57 players listed in the programme.

Taking inspiration from reports of Corelli’s large-scale performances of his concertos (the programme reproduced an image of an al fresco concert that Corelli directed on the Spanish Steps in Rome), Andrew Manze brought both his ’old’ and ’new’ groups to the Royal Albert Hall. Still not large enough, members of the Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra were also invited to join. However, despite the large forces and although the sound was refined and pure, there was an absence of heft, especially after the imposing sound of the Budapest Festival Orchestra from the previous evening.

With two theorbos and massed strings – antiphonal violins, as one would expect for this period – and with Manze leading from a highchair, it was certainly visually impressive.And one could be assured that Corelli’s influential works were given due seriousness, Manze bringing out the drama and revolutionary structure, which Corelli assiduously honed.

In Handel’s Silete venti, beautifully sung by Sarah Fox, the orchestra was substantially reduced, apart from the addition of two oboes, oddly seated by the first violins, one behind the other.

However, it was with the addition of the combined choirs associated with both established orchestras for Handel’s youthful Dixit Dominus that the music impressed in volume.With its brilliant choruses, contrasting the affecting ensembles for the five soloists (lovely to see Sarah Connolly back after her pregnancy), this performance took rhythmic flight. Fauré was fond of reminding people that nothing was ever really original, and there was much in this zestful score that reminded me of the American minimalists – only Handel got there 300 years earlier!

  • Radio 3 re-broadcast on Thursday 24 July at 2 p.m.
  • BBC Proms

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