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Mendelssohn, Korngold, Stravinsky, Bridge, Shostakovich



Mendelssohn – A Midsummer Night's Dream – Overture & Scherzo

Korngold – Much Ado About Nothing – Suite

Stravinsky – Three Songs from William Shakespeare – Musick to heare; Full fathom five; When Daisies pied

Bridge – There is a willow grows aslant a brook

Shostakovich – Hamlet – Suite from the incidental music, Op 32a


 Britten Sinfonia – conducted by Alexander Shelley

Anna Dennis – soprano Prunella Scales, Timothy West – speakers


Proms Saturday Matinee, Cadogan Hall, London SW3 14 July 2007


Shakespeare may be threatened with being dropped from the schools' national curriculum, but his works are enshrined in this year's Proms Season which has “Shakespeare, the eternal mews” as one if its major themes.


As is the way with Proms, we were led in gently with extracts from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream with the violins fluttering like fairy wings to remind us that we were entering a magic kingdom where surprises would be in store.


Korngold wrote his incidental music and suite to Much Ado About Nothing in 1919, at a time when musicians were in short supply, but it's a triumph of economical scoring. The orchestral sound is full and bright and there is an air of suppressed fun and excitement about it, perfectly matching the Shakespeare's Sicilian comedy. The Intermezzo has a really lovely solo cello sequence, which reminds us that this is also a love story, and the suite ends with a tuneful hornpipe, cued by Benedict's parting line in the play “Strike up Pipers!”.


Stravinsky's three songs are scored for flute, clarinet and viola, though sadly I could not find the names of the soloists listed in programme. The singer was Anna Dennis, whose voice blended beautifully with the ensemble yet conveyed her words with absolute clarity – very skilfully done. I particularly enjoyed Full fathom five which conjures up images of fish gliding through mysterious watery depths, as somewhere in the background a bell is slowly tolling to the motion of the waves.


Throughout the afternoon Timothy West and Prunella Scales had read extracts from the plays, none more effective than Gertrude's speech in Act 4 of Hamlet describing Ophelia's drowning, the first line of which There is a willow grows aslant a brook is both the inspiration for and title of Frank Bridge's dark and moving tone poem. The received its world premiere at a Prom in 1927, and it was good to hear it back in a Proms programme after a gap of 80 years!


We stayed with Hamlet for final item: Shostakovich's suite drawn from the 45 musical numbers he prepared as incidental music for an experimental production directed by Nikolay Akimov. This depicts Ophelia as a frivolous character, more drunken than mad, and this strange slant is mirrored in the music. It is full of theatrical gestures, and quick changes of mood. The Requiem quotes extensively from the Dies irae and the suite rounds off with a thoroughly resounding March.


A virtuoso performance throughout from the Britten Sinfonia, energetically conducted in balletic style by Alexander Shelley.


Serena Fenwick