Prom 70 – Sacred and Profane

Cantata 170 – Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust
L’Apothéose de la Danse [UK première of an orchestral suite compiled by Marc Minkowski]
Ariodante – Scherza infida; Dopo notte

Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano)

Les Musiciens du Louvre – Grenoble
Marc Minkowski

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 10 September, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

After the horrendous over-run of the percussion late-nighter two evenings earlier when the last piece didn’t start until 11.50 – twenty minutes after the concert was meant to have ended! – this season’s final ’late’ concert was back to the Baroque. If it was not as packed as for Dido and Aeneas, there was still a substantial audience, which would be the envy of all other concert halls.

Although none of the performers were newcomers to the Proms there is still rarity value in Les Musiciens du Louvre – Grenoble and Marc Minkowski on these shores.In massed ranks – over 40 players – there was no problem with the sound being too small for the hall, as the programme moved from the sacred to the profane; from one of Bach’s solo cantatas written soon after he had arrived in Leipzig via Minkowski’s new edition of dances by Rameau (from no less than nine of his stage works – ballets or lyrical tragedies – and a harpsichord piece) to two arias from Handel’s Ariodante, which Anne Sofie von Otter has recorded with Minkowski.

In my general antipathy towards Bach (the fawning adulation that ’one-emotional level’ Bach receives constantly amazes me: rapt and spiritual he certainly is, and in the godless 21st-century I understand why people delight in that quality in his music – far better that than the blatant insincerity of a John Tavener, for example – but life is more than one emotion … give me Handel or Scarlatti any day!), I found the cantata, Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust (Contented rest, beloved inner joy) rather dull.Beautiful oboe d’amore playing from Patrick Beaugiraud, and later flautist Kate Clark, spotlit at the front of the ensemble, aside, there was a sense of dutifulness in this performance, with Anne Sofie von Otter’s runs in the first recitative oddly angular.

Things, however, got better quickly in Minkowski’s own suite of dances from Rameau’s catalogue, entitled L’Apothéose de la Danse (do you think anyone – Minkowski himself, perhaps – will programme this extended suite, about 40 minutes, with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, termed by Wagner as “the apotheosis of the dance”?).

Minkowski’s suite amasses thirteen pieces from ten works: from the opening Overture to Zäis, via Les fêtes d’Hébé, Dardanus, Le temple de la Gloire, Les Boréades (by contract having to state its copyright to Allain Villain, Editions Stil, Paris – see my review of Christie’s Les Boréades at the Barbican Hall for more on the utterly disgraceful nature of the publishers of this work), La naissance d’Osiris, Platée, La Poule (an orchestration of Rameau’s harpsichord piece The Hen), Hippolyte et Aricie and Les Indes galantes.Like a Mozart serenade, this suite beguiled the ears with constant invention.

However, the show-stealer was Handel.Anne Sofie von Otter, changed from all black to white trousers and a burnished bronze jacket, came back to sing two arias from Ariodante with a completely changed countenance.This was wonderful singing, of wonderful music: two contrasting arias, extraordinarily, the first arias from Ariodante ever to be heard at the Proms.The heart-breaking ’Scherza infida’ – in effect Ariodante’s suicide aria, having been tricked into believing his beloved has been two-timing him – was followed by ’Dopo notte’, towards the resolution of the story (somewhat perversely set in Scotland!) with Ariodante’s hopes lifted, realising the traumas he has gone through, but that the future is bright.Sheer heaven!While no broadcast radio repeat has been scheduled, the performance is available until Wednesday 17 September to listen to via the Proms Online facility.

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