MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.

Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny

  • Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs

Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb




Edinburgh International Festival 2009 (9) - Haydn: Joyce DiDonato (mezzo), David Blackadder (trumpet) Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sir Roger Norrington (conductor), Usher Hall, 22.8.2009 (SRT)


Haydn: Symphony No. 49 in F Minor, “La Passione”

Trumpet Concerto

Scena di Berenice

Symphony No. 48 in C, “Maria Theresia”

I’ve always been something of a Roger Norrington sceptic. His distinctive brand of music making – of which no-vibrato-under-any-circumstances is only the most famous example – has never appealed: it strikes me that too often it can be academic for its own sake and to my ears his approach is too often cold and passionless. Alas, the symphony that opened this concert only confirmed my fears. He plodded through the Adagio opening movement with the strings sounding wan and pale, without colour or energy. Perhaps that was the point, for me the piece was drained of any life. The soporific minuet was woken up only by the rustic-sounding trio focused on the winds. The finale eventually produced the passione of the title, but for me it was too little too late. There were the same problems in the middle movements of No. 48, but here at least there was sufficient liveliness and bounce in the outer movements, spearheaded by the fanfare-led horn part which gave some much needed energy to the first movement. The orchestra was on altogether better form for the Trumpet Concerto, perhaps because the music itself is more inspired, but David Blackadder seemed tense and unrelaxed, leading to more than a few fluffed notes. Any live performance is prone to those, of course, and his tone was fantastic when he was on form, but the performance as a whole didn’t flower in the way that it ideally should.

It took the arrival of Joyce DiDonato to inject some real star quality into the evening. Even here, though, she was foiled by some unlooked for drama as the Usher Hall lighting desk failed (twice!), plunging the stage into darkness. In the end it wasn’t properly fixed and the performers had to do with an orange floodlight effect which, it was judged, was better than nothing, if far from ideal. Once she finally got to sing she was magnificent. DiDonato is one of the greatest singing actresses of our age, as anyone who has seen her Rossini at Covent Garden will testify. She stormed through Berenice’s recitatives, proving alluring and sensuous for the aria, then fierce and implacable for the mad scene. The highlight of the evening, however, was a piece that wasn’t on the programme and wasn’t even by Haydn. For an encore DiDonato sang Handel’s Ombra mai fu with utmost sensitivity and sensual allure. Here too, for once, the orchestra was allowed to open up and show some real heart, accompanying the vocal line like a smooth caress. It would have been good to have witnessed some more of this in what was, on balance, a disappointing evening.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 6th
September at venues across the city. For full details go to

Simon Thompson


Back to Top                                                 Cumulative Index Page