Proms 5 & 6: Northern Sinfonia/Academy of Ancient Music

/ 4 stars Royal Albert Hall, London

The late Prom by Gateshead's Northern Sinfonia on Monday included this season's first premiere: Tableaux, by Philip Cashian. Its three short movements share an irresistible sense of forward momentum, whether in the ebulliently frenetic choruses of violins at the start or the itchy repeated notes of the second movement.

Cashian evolves his ideas skilfully, and it's an effective orchestral showpiece. Still, it didn't sound as original as the two works that followed: Sequenza VII and Chemins V by the late Luciano Berio, the former an oboe monologue from 1969, the latter a rethinking of it for oboe and strings composed six years later.

The second, especially, seemed the work of a real musical explorer; and with the distinguished Heinz Holliger as soloist we had the luxury of hearing it played by the oboist for who it was written. The violinist Thomas Zehetmair, since last year the Sinfonia's music director, joined Holliger for Bach's Concerto for Violin and Oboe; elsewhere he conducted.

Zehetmair is probably more of an inspirational leader than a technically great conductor as yet, and there were moments when Stravinsky's Apollon Musagète dragged. But he still drew some poised, vibrant playing in this finespun ballet score.

Another violinist was in charge at last night's Prom by the Academy of Ancient Music: Andrew Manze, mostly directing as he played, seated on a high chair at the front. The academy pulled out all the stops, bringing in additional players from the English Concert and the Royal Academy of Music and assembling an excellent chorus which did full justice to the showy challenges of Handel's Dixit Dominus.

They were joined by singers including the firm, velvety mezzo Sarah Connolly and the soprano Sarah Fox, earlier the gently voluptuous soloist in the motet Silete Venti. But it was the items for orchestra alone that made the strongest impression, a tribute to Manze's infectious energy as leader.

The full ensemble gave two Concerti Grossi by Corelli - orchestras of 100 were not uncommon in 18th-century Rome. The opening movement of his Op 6 No 4 was electrifying; as for the Christmas Concerto, I can't remember hearing the slow music played with such tenderness, or the pastoral sounding so simply, touchingly distant.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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