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Sonia Prina (Wigmore Hall, 11 January 2018)

Sonia Prina contralto
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Concerto Grosso in F major

Giovanni Ferrandini (1710-1791)
Cantata: Il pianto di Maria

Interval

This was a very well attended concert but in contrast to the JDD estravaganza, the mood was mostly relaxed. There was a certain buzz in the air, as if people had just started to catch on to Prina. Without a doubt her recent excursions in London have raised her status among Wiggy regulars.

A bit strangely, then, Prina showed up in a dress. I was caught unawares – she can dress however she wants but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen her dressed so formally. But, you may say, how appropriate is it to sing Mary’s lament other than formally dressed?

Perhaps to fit that mood and the fact that the show was broadcast live on BBC3, the Akademie sounded on the formal side of excellent. No doubt about their technical prowess and Baroque-ness.

Ferrandini’s Pianto di Maria seems popular among mezzos and contraltos but not so much with me. Prina decided on a very operatic take, with the dramatic turns energetically emphasised and the recit parts done with lots of fervour. I felt a bit of sameness of sound on the low end in spite of it all, so I think I prefer a higher or brighter tone if I have to listen to this piece at all.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Cantata: Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV54

Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764)
Concerto Grosso in E flat ‘Il Pianto d’Arianna’ Op. 7 No. 6

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Longe mala, umbrae, terrores RV629

Encores:

But who may abide (Messiah)
Longe mala, umbrae, terrores RV629

After the interval we had the rather unusual chance to hear Prina sing in German. At least to my ears she did a very good job and I finally perked up.

Unsurprisingly my favourite moment of the night was Vivaldi’s Longe mala…, where I think Prina sounded most comfortable. Perhaps that was the reason why she also capped the night with it, much to my delight. The Akademie let their hair down a bit and matched her to perfection in the endless runs, which she of course took with much gusto. During the intermission I overheard a wry attendee do an uncanny and amusing impression of Prina’s very personal way with coloratura, so the above-mentioned runs brought a smile to my face in spite of the rough patch I went through the week before.

She returned to much applause with a “belated Christmas gift”, which turned out ot be But who may abide. It once again gave her the opportunity to shake the stage up during the energetic b-section. So a more sober encounter than usual but a Prina show is always warm and full of life and the public feels it and responds accordingly.

The English Concert’s small scale Easter (Wigmore Hall, 23 March 2016)

In contrast to last year’s St Matthew Passion at the lumbering Barbican, this Easter season I opted for a much shorter performance at the intimate Wigmore Hall that included one of my favourite singers’ very welcome return to London.

And, as it rurns out, a lot of… hair.

The English Concert | Harry Bicket director, harpsichord

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Concerto for Strings in G minor RV157

Violin Concerto in C major ‘Per la santissima Assunzione di Maria Vergine’ RV581 | Nadja Zwiener violin

Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751) | Katharina Spreckelsen oboe

Concerto for oboe in D minor Op. 9 No. 2

Antonio Vivaldi

Sinfonia in B minor RV169 ‘Al Santo Sepolcro’

These pieces are all very enjoyable though by music alone I didn’t feel religiously transported. That, I think, is the nature of the music at hand as much as my own nature. But their effect was such that I’ve been listening to them for the past few days. Per la santissima Assunzione di Maria Vergine1 was done in a very dramatic manner, more so than usual, which showcased much virtuosity and chutzpah from the soloist. By contrast the oboe concerto came off serene.

INTERVAL

Giovanni Ferrandini (1710-1791) | Ann Hallenberg mezzo-soprano

Cantata: Il pianto di Maria

Obviously for me the big attraction was Ann Hallenberg, whom I had last seen at Wigmore Hall as the end of April 2014. Il pianto di Maria felt more operaticly dramatic (but the Hallenberg way, which is never OTT) than feverishly religious. Then again, I wasn’t looking for a religious experience, rather to hear her live after a good while. One of the things I like most about listening to her is how she blends in with the orchestra. It feels like the voice is another instrument, without which the music would miss its spark. I get an extra dose of enjoyment from listening to singers whose phrasing fits the sounds around them so well.

I sometimes talk about the effect certain singers’ stage presence has on me. Hallenberg is the one who always brings with her a sense of calm and proportion. It makes me feel – for the duration of the performance at least – that everything is all right.

PS: Annual update on Hairstyles at Wigmore Hall + assorted divagations. There was a bit of seat upgrading by the younger gen after the interval thus I got an unexpected windshield wiper head in front of me. I wiped along with him (during the more anguished moments in the music) until I found an angle which allowed me see more of Ann2 and less of my immediate surroundings. Still, it was hard not to notice that in front of the wiper was Prince William’s bald spot and at 11 o’clock a lady with hair dry and bushy like a haystack and which curls at the end and stays starched in that position until wet. I know that type of hair well, it’s common on one side of my family. At 1 o’clock we had a lady with dramatic soprano cca 1965 hairdo but luckily she was short enough and very resistant to swinging with the breeze.

On the way out I saw a few ladies chatting on the side block and one of them had alarmingly opinionated hair (looked a bit like the tray with Jochanaan severed head in it) that made me think of a certain pre-rephaelite painting. Looking it up meant going through about 100 Rosettis and Burne-Jones’ etc. with the the focus on hair. Daunting task, I tell you, as it seems all of them were obsessed with hair livelier than a ! All of them. But most importantly I noticed they all painted the same woman, and that is precisely Anja Harteros in period dress.

Alcina: You pale shadows, I know you hear me;
you hover around me and conceal yourselves,
and are deaf to my words. Why? Why?

Ombre pallide3: We’re afraid of your insatiable hair!


  1. And I seem to recall it being placed just before the intermission. 
  2. Ann’s hair, normally quite cheerful itself, was on best behaviour today, having taken a step back from the spotlight (literally, it was placed behind her neck). 
  3. Yea, this pre-raphaelite incursion gave me an irrestible urge to listen to Ombre pallide