My recent reports from concerts attended have been neither timely nor insightful. I really must get my finger out, especially when I look at my diary for the first fortnight in October which will have six highly reviewable nights out.
The Proms has so many varied concerts in quick succession, it is impossible for me to attend even a fraction, and thus I don't get the full sense of being immersed in the Festival. It is also quite difficult to choose which I should go to - there were some obvious vocal highlights which became 'must see' for me, but I declined to go many solely instrumental concerts where only part of the programme appealed.
I really should not apologise for only attending a handful of Proms. I have always been a little bit scared of 'completism', that macho need to demonstrate to everybody that you have gone to every single home match, or bought every record, including the 7", the 7" EP and the 12".
I am not alone in believing that the more you consume, the less satisfied you become. It's almost like a drug, that you need more and more highs just to make it feel worthwhile. Whereas, the infrequent concert goer is going to get pleasure irrespective of duff notes, below par singers, and uninspired conducting. Which, I hasten to add, is not a cue for my report on the three concerts I haven't yet mentioned. Well, apart from the uninspired conducting (and I don't mean Harry Christophers).
The three concerts as yet unreported on are the Harry Christophers/Sixteen/Carolyn Sampson Handel evening; the Roger Norrington/ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Joyce DiDonato celebration of the four anniversary boys; and Iestyn Davies/Academy of Ancient Music celebrating Purcell.
Of the three I suspect that the all-Handel evening will linger longest in my mind, although the Purcell, being so very recent (Monday lunchtime, the final chamber Prom) is currently uppermost. And, certainly, if I was ranking singers this season, it would be hard pushed to choose between Carolyn and Iestyn, both of whom I was lucky enough to see twice. I suppose I don't like Carolyn's post-baby voice as much as I did her before-baby voice, but I think I should reserve judgement - it's less than a year since she had the baby. Iestyn is just a phenomenon, an unbelievably beautiful voice, just amazing.
I do so want to like Joyce DiDonato. My intellect can admire and respect her tremendously, but I am not emotionally touched by her. When people write about her technical ability and musical understanding and vocal wealth, I cannot disagree. But she doesn't affect me the way some other singers do.
That having been said, she was the highlight of a somewhat dismal evening that tried to combine pieces from Purcell, Handel and Haydn in the first half and in the second half had Mendelssohn's lush romantic Scottish Symphony somewhat ruined by (to me) irrelevant period instruments and an unengaged interpretation by Roger Norrington, who wasn't so much stick-waving as drowning. I'm sorry, but I found him intensely annoying, which marred the evening for me. It is said that if you notice the conductor, there's a problem.
The Handel evening was exquisite. Unfortunately, it was the only concert where I was seated up in the Circle, way too high up really to appreciate the intimate sound of the Sixteen, and not ideal for hearing Carolyn Sampson, who prefers nuanced subtlety to vulgar bellowing.
The concert programme was a mixture of the familiar and pieces that I have seldom heard. The highlight was Carolyn's arias from Semele - Endless Pleasure and Myself I Shall Adore.
She embraced the character of Semele as a rather vacuous hedonist blonde, although this was lost to me in my lofty seat - it came across more convincingly on TV.
Two very different arias. Endless Pleasure could almost be a convincing pop song (hmm, now that's the sort of crossover I'd be interested in, if done intelligently and with fidelity to the composer's intentions).
Myself I Shall Adore presents plenty of opportunity for ornamentation and Carolyn did not shirk. In such a concert performance - more than in staged opera - the singer can have great fun with crazy embellishments full of flourish. I was a little concerned to hear a darkening at the top of her range. I hope that she isn't going to become too heavy, although I will have to accept it if that's where her voice is going.
Other highlights were the pieces I know best - Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and the last of the four Coronation Anthems, Zadok the Priest. I was surprised at how unfamiliar the other three were. I am confident that once I am familiar with them, I will enjoy them more.
I'm afraid the organ concerto did little for me. The programme explained that it was written as incidental music, and that's exactly how it came across. The Handel-era organ works superbly in small intimate venues; in the Albert Hall I want the big booming glorious monster with 9,999 pipes.
The final Chamber Music Prom was my first ever. Iestyn Davies was superb, both in Purcell songs - especially Sweeter than Roses - and in John Blow's Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell. The tenor, Simon Wall, was less convincing but did not mar my enjoyment.
What I like about Iestyn - and what initially draws me to all the best counter-tenors - is the purity of his voice, the exquisite breath control, lyricism of line, and splendid legato. What keeps me fascinated by him, and not by the rest, is the rich tapestry of colours, the variation in tone, dynamics and emphasis, and the occasional hints of baritonal splendour (yet never coming out of the counter-tenor mode).
I have written several times of his impressive stage presence. In Partenope or Samson, he becomes the character and communicates this to the audience. A different setting called for a different behaviour; he showed that he understood the words (which is to be expected!) and also that he grasped the thoughts and sentiments that inspired them and understood how the music reflected them.
I enjoyed the small baroque ensemble from the Academy of Ancient Music, in the purely instrumental pieces and when they were working with the singers.
Parenthetically, a small bugbear: Suzy Klein interviewed their leader, Richard Egarr, who proudly announced that the first thing he sang 'at Cambridge' was a 'fart' that was the start of a Henry Purcell's song not suitable for daytime broadcasting. I don't know why so many people who happened to have studied, often decades ago, at Cambridge University (or Oxford) seem compelled to drop this fact into almost every conversation; it would seem quite strange and very tedious, a sign of arrested maturation, for someone in their 40s and 50s to constantly harp on about how they did student-like things as a student at Neasden Polytechnic in the 1980s.
I enjoyed my Proms season, and feel I got a lot out of what I attended, even those concerts that did not reach my expectations. There were several concerts I would have surely enjoyed if I had attended them, but I didn't, and I do not regret that.
I write this after the Last Night, an unrepresentative nadir, of an otherwise excellent series. Sadly, it is only the second half of this last night that gets any attention from BBC1; there are people who believe (and blog or twitter thus) that this is all the Proms represents. The small proportion that does get broadcast gets shunted into the ghetto on BBC4, or dumbed down into ever-moving slots on BBC2.
Clearly, anyone who wants to see the broadcasts can switch channels or set the recording device of choice, but the BBC sends out a clear message in its choice of channel, timing and cuts. I feel certain that during the 2010 World Cup, every single match will be televised, most of them live on BBC1 (or ITV1), and the less attractive group stages will at least be available through the red button or transmitted in the early hours. The BBC will be proclaiming - this event is important enough to disrupt our normal scheduling, whether or not you want that.
I believe it has been demonstrated numerous times that a significant number of people, at least some of the time, watch what is provided for them, without actually making a positive choice. The BBC doesn't have the courage to engineer the viewing of their Proms in the same way they do for snooker or celebrity-reality TV.
NB For all three concerts, and all the other Prom concerts reported on, I purchased the tickets myself; they were not provided free by the venues or organisers.