My first experience of Anna Prohaska live was a revelation. She has a reputation forged on her precocity (at 17 making her professional debut) and quirky videos filmed in hospitals and train platforms. The impression one gets from the promotional materials would be of seeing the Björk of classical performance and I would tend to agree. She presented a stage presence of great maturity for an artist who is only 30 years old. Her voice is such an exciting mix of sensuality and piercing intensity being instantly enchanting. Her elfin looks underline her interpretations with a full body connection to the text. The music she sang was from the late 17th and mid 18th centuries and yet her presentation was as connected and immediate as if she was interpreting a piece written just for her and having had the benefit of a long chat with the composer. A great example of when historically informed performance (not always a fan) doesn’t have to be characterless and academic.
The orchestra’s vibrant playing of the very merry and weather-beaten Locke incidental music was a great way to open the concert. In the simplest moments of the 3rd Purcell song caressing the text and breathing a sensual warmth to every phrase.
The suite of dances and arias from The Fairy Queen were absolutely evocative of the magic of Purcell’s grand Entertainment. The evident comradeship among the players was too evident and a month long tour of Australia must have made the bond stronger. The particular delicacy of The Plaint and See, See, Even the night herself is here capitalised on Prohaska’s silken delivery backed by an emotional investment and bright projection. It was both deeply sensual and individual…all too frequently the eloquence and simple beauty gets marred by disinterested performers that seem to add very little of themselves to the material. Our leading lady with some great viola playing by Jane Rogers wove her magic in the most quiet and intimate way imaginable.
The second half started with the harpsichord tuner leaving his phone on the instrument and Richard Egarr urgently returning it backstage…which made for a fun and giggly start.
The Arne overture was a reference to the first recording of the orchestra forty years ago and we were zipped through the many mood swings and tempi in record time, to be delivered in the capable hands of the young Handel and his fiery Italianate arias from Rinaldo and Amadigi di Gaula. Prohaska surely used the bright top of her voice to great effect. Those two arias made evident that her voice may not have a rather large size but she makes up in agility and fire. The way she transmitted vulnerability in her Ah! Spietato was breathtaking, not a contrived version of pain, much loved by transatlantic divas, but a genuine sorrow that filled the air with gorgeous sound and emotion. A superlative example of when period instruments allow for such simplicity and immediate, emotional, responses.
The sinfonia from Saul was like a mini symphony wedged into the an oratorio in the usual Handel way. An ear pinning orgiastic concoction of seductive flute patterns overlaid with sweeping strings and punctuated by sharp attacks on the harpsichord.
The rendition of Farewell and Let the bright Seraphim were a glorious end to the evening with some immaculate coloratura passages. The trumpet playing by David Blackadder was attention grabbing but also a great match for the jollity emanating from the opposite end of the stage and Prohaska’s delightful swaying presence. We were also treated to the most spectacular encore of Dido’s lament for Dido and Aeneas. Every phrase had its logical place as it brought the character to life, eery remember me uttered with perfect simplicity and deep urge. A glorious end to a tremendous evening and a singer that will have to follow much closer from now on!
Also worth mentioning how wonderful Milton Court is, with a resonant warm acoustic and clean design. Well worth returning to listen to smaller ensembles, making future visits to the Barbican complex much more interesting. And their bar was also very well priced…if you need a drink while there.
Some tweets from the evening