Stage reviews: BBC Proms No 15, Saul and more | Theatre | Entertainment

Stage reviews: BBC Proms No 15, Saul and more

CUT ABOVE…. David holds Golliath’s head with, l to r, Merab, Michal and Jonathan (Image: Bill Cooper)

Showy and melodramatic Gernon is not. 

Unlike many current musicians he does not join in the slapstick antics to supply photographers with dramatic pictures. But boy, what music. 

He seems to have his arms around every musician in front of him and the man responding most passionately was Lewis at the keyboard. 

Delving in and out of Beethoven’s structure of sound, his brilliant technique became a discovery of beauty, passion and love. 

Together they made clear precisely what Beethoven meant. 

It was, quite simply, sensational. 

They may not thank me for saying so but Gernon and Lewis make a lovely couple. 

Then came Brahms’s Second Symphony, another familiar favourite. 

Recognised around the world as a classic pastoral romp, to me it almost seems that the composer throws down a glove to the listener– pin me down if you can. 

Changes of mood and tempi chase each other throughout the four movements. 

And yes, you cannot ignore premature echoes (if you know what I mean) of the pastoral seeping through the cosy tunes. 

But it is not all bucolic jesting. 

All the way through you feel the composer testing himself, ‘Will this hold up’, ‘What will the listener make of this?’. 

Well, one listener had a whale of a time. 

The evening was launched by Tansy Davies’s What Did We See?, a moody orchestral compilation of her operatic adventure Between Worlds, inspired by the events of 9/11. 

The one vivid characteristic of her music still in my mind is the layers of notes she extracts from the orchestra, whom she knows her way around beautifully.


Handel’s SAUL ★★★★ Glyndebourne Festival East Sussex (Tickets: 01273 815000/; £55-£230) 

Mahler’s SYMPHONY NO 8 ★★★★★ BBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Søndergård Prom 11 Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (Tickets: 020 7070 4441/

Australian director Barrie Kosky’s fantastical approach to Saul is still a knockout on its third revival at Glyndebourne. 

Handel’s oratorio, written in 1738, is based on the Biblical story of the rivalry between King Saul and David.

The work was the composer’s first collaboration with Charles Jennens, who was later to be librettist for Messiah, and it is usually performed in concert. 

Kosky brings a dazzling sense of visual drama to the oratorio. 

The overture begins to a grey background with the severed head of the giant Goliath on the ground beside Iestyn Davies’s battle-traumatised David. 


Saul continues to be a knockout on its third revival at Glyndebourne (Image: Bill Cooper)

The curtain is then whipped up to an outburst of Hallelujahs from the jubilant Israelites over their victory against the Philistines. 

On a long table, a riotous crowd in 18th century dress celebrate amongst cornucopias of fruit, flowers and slain animals. 

The one person not rejoicing is Markus Brück’s King Saul, suddenly displaced in his people’s affections by a whipper snapper of a shepherd boy. 

Saul’s madness is irrational and lethal. 

The King attempts openly to kill the nation’s new favourite. 

His son Jonathan is torn between obeying his father or betraying his friend David. 

Counter tenor Davies captures the quiet authority of the young David, and his delivery of O Lord, whose mercies numberless is superb. 

Saul’s daughters – haughty Merab and sweet-natured Michal – are sung by Karina Gauvin and Anna Devin, respectively. 

Tenor Allan Clayton is an anguished Jonathan and baritone Brück follows the original Saul of Christopher Purves as the father from hell. 

Tenor John Graham-Hall is suitably repellent as Witch of Endor. 

Excellent playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under conductor Laurence Cummings.

There can be no better introduction to the spirit of the Proms than Mahler’s Symphony No 8 – popularly known as the Symphony of a Thousand because of the number of singers and musicians needed to fulfil its demands – in this case it’s more than 650. 

Principal conductor to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Thomas Søndergård performed the colossal work as his farewell to the ensemble of which he has been principal conductor since 2012. 

A resounding goodbye, indeed. 

Three separate adult choruses from Cardiff and London, and the Southend Boys’ Choir and Southend Girls’ Choir, joined eight top soloists in a one hour 40 minute celebration of the work that Mahler wrote during an inspired eight weeks, describing it as “my gift to the nation.” 

The first part, a setting of the ancient Latin hymn Veni, creator spiritus (Come, creator spirit), begins with a tumultuous blast of the organ, and is polyphonic in style. 

In the second part, the soloists come into their own. 

The words are from the climatic mystical chorus of the final scene from Goethe’s Faust. 

The soloists become named characters, as the saints debate the nature of love. 

The mood is increasingly ecstatic, as the poem takes us on an upward journey from forest to the heavens.

Excellent singing, especially from soprano Tamara Wilson, tenor Simon O’Neill and baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Most thrilling of all was hearing the voice of Joelle Harvey as Mater Gloriosa floating seraphically from the gallery.

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