Proms 37 & 38

The Sixteen/Christophers and BBCSSO/Davies

The relay of Handel celebrations has continued apace at the Proms, the latest leg being run by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen. In a programme centred around the four coronation anthems, the choir – whose numbers were slightly swelled for the occasion – sang with the same combination of unbridled joy and well-bridled talent that have earned them worldwide fame.

Christophers’ approach to anthems was lively but unsensationalist, relying on the accuracy of his singers and players rather than anachronistic bombast to convey the sense of might and majesty we once looked for among our royalty. Diversity was introduced with excerpts from the “baudy” semi-opera Semele, the sensous early Salve Regina and the fourth organ concerto. Carolyn Sampson, who sung Semele at the Coliseum, proved once again matchless in the role, effortlessly summoning an astonishing variety of tone for the three arias though she was less sure-footed in the sacred work. Equally astonishing was Alastair Ross, gracing the concerto’s ebullient phrases with an intimacy of gesture which, in lesser hands, could have completely lost the 12,000 ears turned to the period organ’s delicate sounds.

The proto-minimalist opening to Zadok, which concluded the concert, made an interesting introduction to the late-night programme of Philip Glass. Notably baroque in design, the violin concerto was played with commitment by Gidon Kremer in a brave attempt to wrestle some melody from the chain of broken chord figurations. Glass’s good friend Dennis Russell Davies led the BBC Scottish players with the same intensity and attention to contour that distinguish his Bruckner. With the subtle shifts of texture and resounding silences that punctuate the seventh symphony in its evocation of Toltec mysticism, these crudely crafted works, rather wasteful of the vast array of orchestral talent they demand, certainly allow ample time to contemplate the thin line dividing ecstasy from boredom.

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