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Proms 2009: Prom 53 – Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony \ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment \ Roger Norrington

August 26, 2009

Let me talk you through my morning routine. It starts later than most senior people in the media industry in that I normally wake up to my alarm at 7.30am, drift back to sleep and then drag my carcass out from underneath the duvet at the same time as checking my email on my phone. Twitter is checked around about the time I plant my backside on the toilet.

The past few days has seen a dramatic mood change drastically by the time I’ve left the bathroom. This is in part my fault. I have my phone set up to alert every time some tweets about the Proms. And believe me, there’s nothing worse than being told how wonderful last night’s performances were when I’d made a conscious decision to avoid the Proms. At least, until I was in a better frame of mind.

I explained to a friend how my connection with the Proms at the present time was not unlike the emotions I experienced when I realised that a relationship with a girlfriend really was well and truly over – so much so I didn’t want to spend any more time than I absolutely had to in her company. Hence why I chose the graduation ball I invited her to attend as my significant other to tell her she was no longer required to fulfill the role. It’s not a nice feeling. I was justifiably remonstrated for being an insensitive fool.

Still, I’m not a total arse. I’ve managed to preserve some level-headedness. The BBC provides the iPlayer. That’s what these things are here for. Give authentic performance chappy Roger Norrington and his merry band of players from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment a go. Despite a first half of Purcell and Handel (with a smattering of Haydn), there’s still a chance they’ll deliver that road to Damascus experience I craved earlier in the season.

The OAE didn’t disappoint nor the quality of the catchup recording on iPlayer. Volume up loud I was forced to acknowledge that actually, just maybe I may have found a snippet of Handel’s music I rather enjoyed. It might even have been possible I thought it was quite, quite beautiful (in no small part thanks to Joyce DiDonato’s exquisite voice). I may even be prepared to sit through an entire recording of the opera Xerxes from which the excerpt Ombra Mui Fu came from. Possibly. Check back here at a later date.

The real revelation however was Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. Played on modern instruments on most of the recordings I’ve got, the sound is mushy, the strings distant and the wind indistinct. Stick it on in the background. Think nothing of it. Not as good as the Italian but pleasant enough. That’s all there is to it, I reckoned.

Norrington and his band however produced something entirely different. He gave them time and in return they gave him and the audience an effortless illlustration of the intricacies of Mendelssohn’s at times fiendish orchestration. At least it sounded effortless. There could have been blood, sweat and tears on stage for all I know. I was listening via iPlayer after all.

Really interesting was the slide Norrington got string players to play somewhere approaching the end of the first movement and the hard sticks on taut timpani punching through the ensemble towards the end of the last movement. The woodwind were stunning, the brass too breathtaking. Especially touching was the extended time given over to the woodwind lines towards the end – not something I’d heard before in performance. Not stopping for much of a break in between movements undoubtedly made for a far more complete experience of Mendelssohn’s work too. And yes, I realise I’m gushing.

Norrington did a wonderful thing at Prom 53. This doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is *back on* of course. It was the orchestra rather than the season which provided the revelation. But I did enjoy it. And as anyone who finds themselves having to resuscitate a relationship will tell you, it’s all about taking things slowly. I am not about to jump back into bed with the Proms, but I might just see it through to the end of the ball.

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4 Comments
  1. David England permalink

    Good to have you back on board!

    Yes, the slide Norrington got the strings to play at various points in the first movement were interesting. I love the detail he always gives to these things.

  2. “I’d made a conscious decision to avoid the Proms”; why? I thought I’d find the answer in a previous blog post but since they all seem to be reviews of prom concerts I am a tad confused. Did you listen to less prom concerts when you were not avoiding them? Spill the beans …

  3. Chris permalink

    Very well put. I thought the Handel and the Mendelssohn were both totally wonderful. Not being academically musical as yourgoodself, I realise now why the Mendelssohn stood out – to my under-educated ear it just sounded so much livelier than on previous hearings.

    No mention of a man on a swivelling horse? Best not, I suppose.

    Rather than your asking the Proms out for a no-commitment drink, maybe a bite to eat, to see if there’s a spark between you, suppose she were to ask you out again. Would you take her up on the offer?

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