BBC Prom 9: Mozart & Mendelssohn

BBC Prom 9: Mozart & Mendelssohn
Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Rosa Feola, Jérémie Rhorer
Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2016 

Mozart: Symphony No 39, ‘Ah, lo previdi’; Mendelssohn: ‘Italian’ Symphony; ‘Infelice’.

Making their Proms début, the French period instrument orchestra, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, their conductor and founder, Jérémie Rhorer, and the Italian soprano, Rosa Feola, presented a fascinating programme comparing music by Mozart and Mendelssohn. Perhaps because of what might have been seen as a fairly safe programme, this relatively unknown orchestra managed to achieve a full house of some 5000 people – quite an achievement. Regular Proms goers should have got used to period instrument orchestras in the vast expanse of the Royal Albert Hall, but newcomers expecting a wall of sound would probably have been surprised by the delicacy of the sound.

There is always a risk of trying to force the sound into the space but, sensibly, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie made few, if any, concessions to the acoustic issues of the venue, playing with an outstanding subtlety and attention to detail that drew the listener in to the delights of the sound world of their instruments. The subtlety started with their careful and well-controlled tuning up, the front-left Prommers coming to their aid with a loud Sch! to compensate for the lack of the piecing sound of an oboe to alert the audience to the need for quiet.

Rather cleverly, the programme paired a Symphony with a Concert Aria by the companion composer, opening with Mozart’s Symphony 39, perhaps is the least known of his final trilogy. The subdued opening was an ideal introduction to the sound world of Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, with the gently unfolding harmonies only occasionally punctuated by some incisive beats on the timpani. The expansive Andante was well-paced, with a nicely understated version of what the programme notes described as the central F-minor ‘violent outburst’. The distinctive sound of the two Classical era clarinets bought some delightful colour to the Trio, as did the entire woodwind section in the concluding Allegro, playing around with the twisting nine-note opening motif.

The concluding instrumental work was Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony No 4, given a sparklingly bouncy reading by Jérémie Rhorer. I liked the way the second movement Andante con moto ended: it opens in processional style, but ends by deconstructing itself. The horns sounded at their characterful best in the Trio and, again, the woodwind excelled in the Finale.

In between these two symphonies, came the two Concert Arias with soprano Rosa Feola, who impressed me in her recent portrayal of Susanna in Glyndebourne’s current Figaro (reviewed here). Like the orchestra, Rosa Feola avoided the temptation to force her voice, allowing her natural projection and tone to do the work. Wearing something rather too close to a wedding dress might not have caught the mood of her two Arias, both of which tended to reflect on less happy moments. Rosa Feola’s caught the rapidly changing moods of both works beautifully, engaging the audience with her stage presence. In the Mozart she had her score on a low stand to one side, about thigh height, thus retaining the visual link with the listener. Her Mendelssohn was sung from memory.

Jérémie Rhorer conducting was impressive, although his repeated attempts at getting his no-doubt stylish asymmetrical floppy hair out of his eyes was a distraction to me, and I imagine, to the orchestra – particularly those on his right who for much of the time could presumably only see hair, rather than face.

Perhaps in homage of Rosa Feolo’s other summer occupation, the orchestral encore was the Overture to Figaro. As with all the BBC Proms, this concert can be listened to for up to 30 days after the first, live, broadcast. The link is here.

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