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Seen and Heard Prom Review


PROM 3:  Purcell, ‘The Fairy Queen’   Gabrieli Consort and Players, dir. Paul McCreesh.   Royal Albert Hall, 17 July 2005 (ME)



Purcell’s ‘Entertainment in Three Parts and Nine Masques’ is described in the Prom programme as a ‘Semi – opera in five acts’ which perhaps reveals the style of this performance: it was indeed a ‘semi – opera’ in that I have seen superior direction during my youngest’s nativity play, and I say that as one whose kids have without exception always ‘landed’ parts such as Second Donkey and Third Snowflake. This work is above all an entertainment, i.e. a Romp, and as such it really only took fire here during the camp duet between Corydon and Mopsa – the rest was sporadically pleasurable but mostly just embarrassing.


I have previously found it hard to warm to McCreesh’s style, and this was no exception: when one thinks of the verve, sprightliness and indeed passion which someone like, say, William Christie brings to the ‘early Music’ repertoire, one can’t help but find performances like this one somewhat dull - the playing, whilst accurate and often shapely, seems to lack definition and frequently becomes lost in the vast space of the auditorium. The same can be said of the singing; I found myself ‘hearing’ the Deller Consort recording in my mind’s ear, with all its vivacity, colour, drama and sheer ecstasy of beautiful singing, especially when experiencing what some of this evening’s singers had to offer.


After a somewhat muted Prelude and Hornpipe, the Rondeau was more sprightly: the ‘cast’ aka fairies entered somewhat sheepishly, and Peter Harvey and Jonathan Best turned in pleasing, but not remarkable performances - as for all that ‘tripping’ stuff, it really only works when it’s done as the ENO did it, which is either ‘for all it’s worth’ or ‘way over the top’ depending on your point of view. Charles Daniels introduced the second ‘act’ with a finely phrased account of ‘Come all ye songsters’ but he is no Tom Randle, his tone too threadbare now to fill out the lines of ‘Thus the gloomy world.’  Susan Hemington Jones was even thinner of tone, and I wondered how much anyone could hear of her beyond the middle stalls. At least Mhairi Lawson and the other sopranos were bright and clear, but there was little of the thrilling virtuosity needed in such music as ‘Hark! The ech’ing air a triumph sings’ – the ‘duet’ with the trumpet was however a highlight.


The tenor Mark Le Brocq is a singer whom I would find it hard to recognize out of drag, since he makes such a habit of dressing up on stage, and always to great effect – his winning dialogue as Mopsa with Jonathan Best’s Corydon was the only truly effective scene of the evening, and his voice rang out confidently in ‘Let the fifes and the clarions’ with Daniel Auchincloss, whose assumption of the haut contre part was musical but very pale, especially to anyone familiar with Deller. Most of the audience seemed to have enjoyed the concert – of course it’s a wonderful work, and it’s great to see it in the first week of the Proms; I just wish the performance could have mustered a bit more in the way of real star quality in the singing and staging. 



Melanie Eskenazi


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