tue 18/02/2020

Prom 9: Feola, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie, Rhorer | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 9: Feola, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie, Rhorer

Prom 9: Feola, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie, Rhorer

Vivacious Italian soprano and first clarinet excel in Mozart and Mendelssohn

Rosa Feola with Jérémie Rhorer and Le Cercle de l'HarmonieAll images by Chris Christodoulou/BBC

It's never easy readjusting to the weird and sometimes wonderful acoustics of Albert's colosseum at Proms time, least of all when the first thing you hear there comes from a period-instrument band. Tuning in to Jérémie Rhorer's Le Cercle de l'Harmonie didn't take too long, however, while the urgent projection and diction of a splendid new Italian soprano on the block, Rosa Feola, did the hall proud. And all this to a packed house of 5,000 or so – not bad for relatively unknown performers, though the neat Mozart-Mendelssohn programme must have helped to sell all the seats.

Rhorer (pictured below) announced his intentions in a spruce, articulate Adagio introduction to Mozart's Symphony No. 39, strings rushing with swift clarity down the scales. Sustained notes, vibrato-free, have more trouble carrying in tha Albert Hall, especially when compounded by intonation problems in leader Brian Dean's obbligato role in a Mendelssohn concert aria. Woodwind tuning wasn't always felicitous either – those disappointingly dull authentic flutes and bassoons were a real disappointment in Mozart – while natural horns created some problems here and something really horrible in the scherzo trio of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony. A question to the more historically informed: wouldn't Mendelssohn have written for valves in 1833? Update: see comment below - he didn't.

Jérémie Rhorer at the Proms

Bliss, though, arrived in the shape of first clarinet Nicola Boud, twice ornamenting her rustic role at the heart of Mozart's Minuet, deliciously swift. Rhorer is a real phrase-shaper, though you felt that more of the pain in those minor-key lunges of the slow movement might have been plumbed, and the Mendelssohn symphony was elegant rather than fiery – more chiaroscuro than bright blue Italian skies. Here we definitely wanted more vivacious body from the strings in the outer movements.

Funny, too, how a young conductor at the top of his game doesn't think of practicalities: flipping the hair out of his eyes with his batonless hand must have got in the way of total concentration. I'll never forget Martyn Brabbins' advice to an Israeli participant on an Orkney Conducting Course: the eyes are just as important as the baton, if not more so – go and get a barber to remove that fringe.

Rosa Feola at the PromsUnmodified rapture came from Feola (pictured right), the fully finished, stage-confident lyric soprano article. A surprising thrust in her armoury of colours suggested something beyond your usual sweet Mozart heroine, though – surely she will be the perfect Fiordiligi, Donna Anna too in the right house, and not just a Pamina or a Susanna (a role she's singing to great acclaim in the Glyndebourne revival of Michael Grandage's irresistible Figaro).

She made the slow cavatina of Mozart's early concert aria "Ah, lo previdi" sound like great music, and assured us that Mendelssohn's "Infelice" really does have heroic stature, for all its intriguing retrospective nods to the Haydn cantata style. And the most thrilling phrase of all, unfurled like the rest with perfect breath control and technique as well as deep feeling, intimated that Brahms knew "Infelice" when he set about composing A German Requiem. Revelatory both in the music and the performance – I can't wait to see Feola, the most vivid Italian soprano to have emerged since Anna Caterina Antonacci, on stage.


Actually, all of Mendelssohn's horn parts were written for a valveless instrument.

That was the answer I wanted, thanks for taking the trouble to reply. I can see what effects with the 'weak' notes he might have wanted in that 'Italian' trio, but still not sure it should sound out of tune,

The horn note that you maybe were referring to as sounding 'horrible' was the 'concert A' ( written as an 'F' for the natural horn in E). Your judgement of it as 'horrible came about because 1) Its 'flattening' in pitch by the player's right hand, from what would have been a VERY sharp 'A' if left unmodified as an 'open' note, was much too extreme. It sounded like he had 'stopped' the bell completely, so, what emerged was unfortunately too flat in pitch and also quite harsh and rasping in tone. 

Elsewhere, the horn playing, especially on the 'A' crook in the 1st movement, was wonderful.

Thanks so much for the detail, Tony; I always seek enlightenment as to the 'why'. There were also some dodgy moments in the 'hunt' bit of Berlioz's Queen Mab scherzo with Gardiner's ORR on Saturday (again, the playing was mostly magnificent). I don't complain of the odd fluff, but too much wildness does make one question all that discomfort.

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