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Seen and Heard Prom Review




PROM 39:  Mendelssohn, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Overture and Incidental Music:  Beethoven, Symphony no. 5, Mary Nelson, Victoria Simmonds, Methodist College Belfast Girls’ Choir, Ulster Orchestra, Thierry Fischer, conductor, Royal Albert Hall, 13 August, 2005  (ME)



You always get a great ovation at the Proms, especially if you programme as enticingly as this, even if the performance lacks fire - the Ulster Orchestra must have been well pleased with their reception, but the problem was that they couldn’t quite deliver what their conductor, the on-the-rise Thierry Fischer, seemed to want of them.


Mendelssohn’s incidental music for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is of course more often heard as isolated fragments such as the Wedding March, so it was good to hear it – or most of it – as a whole, especially in the context of this year’s ‘Fairy Tales’ theme which highlighted the obvious links to Purcell’s ‘Faerie Queene.’  The wonderful Overture, written when the composer was only seventeen, was played with great delicacy, the sweeping strings of the coda (to my ears the best music Mendelssohn ever wrote) ideally evoking the sadness of the lovers’ quarrels, but the orchestra often seemed to have difficulty in providing what the conductor seemed to want; it was as though his ambitions were going one way and theirs in a quite different, perhaps less driven direction. The two soloists sang sweetly and the girls’ choir provided incisive, well-trained singing, but the vocal parts seemed to lack mystery or imagination here.


Beethoven’s 5th is always a hit, even if the rendition is not especially distinguished: there was nothing exactly wrong with either the playing or the direction here, just the sense that this is so familiar a piece that it really needs a bit more than ‘just’ accuracy and good judgment in performance. The obvious problems were that there was little sense of the great dramatic plan of the work in evidence, and it did not help that there was some squally intonation from the brass and woodwind: the best playing came in the Andante, but the Allegro’s theme seemed to take an eternity to emerge. The audience reacted as though they had been hearing the work for the first time, which is heart-warming in a way - the greatness of the work transcending the limitations of the performance.



Melanie Eskenazi   



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