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Two Afternoon Proms, 27 August 2007

Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper
Caute cane, cantor cane;  Magnus cesar Otto;  Rota modos arte;  David Regis inclita proles
Atli sendi ar til Gunnars; Adverti omnes populi;  Puella turbata;  Suavissima nunna;  Veni dilectissimae

Benjamin Bagby – voice/lyre/harp/director
Agnethe Christensen – voice
Eric Mentzel – voice
Norbert Rodenkirchen – flute/lyre

Cadogan Hall, London SW3

The art of good story telling is as old as language itself and it was amply demonstrated in this afternoon’s Prom, when a succession of thousand year old songs proved every bit as enthralling as they had been for their first audiences.

The simplest of musical instruments - lyre, flute and harp – were employed to enhance the narratives which ranged over a wide range of subjects.  Tales of ancient kings and battles; a merchant who cunningly disposes of an illegitimate son; wooing and seduction in a monastery, and an early version of the Nibelung legend where Gunnar is lowered into a pit of poisonous serpents and Gudrun achieves her vengeance with an all-engulfing inferno.   

All these were spelled out by “Sequentia” with enormous skill and wit, with Latin and Icelandic texts being no bar to understanding.     The hour passed as though it were a moment …

A ground breaking Prom, and a great pity the TV cameras were not there to record it.

Rachel Portman – The Water Diviner’s Tale

Libretto – Owen Sheers
Director – Denni Sayers

Water Diviner – Nonso Anozie (narrator)
Weather Girl – Frances Bourne
Gas / Scientist – Helen Williams
Oil / Business Man – Robert Burt
Oil / Scientist –Riccardo Simonetti
Coal / Business Man – Paul Reeves
40 Lost Children – chorus members selected by BBC New Talent
Berkshire Maestro Youth Choir;  Bromley Youth Choir;  Members of Chantage;  Hertfordshire County Youth Choir;  Members of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain; Members of Taplow Youth Choi
BBC Concert Orchestra cond David Charles Abel

Royal Albert Hal

Following up on her hugely successful opera based on Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, Rachel Portman turned her attention to a children’s’ opera about environmental issues.

The orchestra occupied conventional placings on the platform.  The overture depicts a mighty storm, and whilst it played a series of “lost children” emerged from various points in the auditorium to take refuge in a square enclosure, like a large life-raft, which had been set up in the promenade arena.   

These “lost children” formed a 40 strong choral grouping, with many of them performing short solos passages and it was the quality of their singing that did much to ensure the success of the enterprise.    Nonso Anozie appeared a larger-than-life figure in the speaking role of Water Diviner, who anchors the narrative together.

Owen Sheers’ words are clear and to the point, delivering a stark warning of the consequences of needless over consumption, “the kettle boiling for one cup of tea”.

Mezzo Frances Bourne introduced a touch of humour as the stereotypical Weather Forecaster, fashionably turned out and irrepressibly chirpy despite her grim massage, and a quartet of professional singers waded in with strong voices representing the exploitation of energy sources planning to “light up our cities ‘til they outshone the stars”.    The large main chorus, seated behind the orchestra, were drawn from choirs around the home counties.

Rachel Portman harnessed all these forces with skill and precision.  As one would expect from a composer with a wide experience of working with film scores, there were many descriptive orchestral touches.     It all ends on a note of optimism as the children promise to restore the natural balance. 

In an audience largely composed of friends and families of the performers, it was clear that the attention of even the youngest children was held throughout.

Serena Fenwick