Neither Tippett nor Wagner are regarded as composers that held back. Wagner's Die Walküre and Tippett's A Child of Our Time are not exactly small works: both attempt to capture the essence of humanity. Despite making an unusual pairing, the programme for Prom 11 at The Royal Albert Hall was an effective and moving one. Spacing the works either side of an interval was an essential programming choice and gave them the necessary time to breathe and be digested.

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Whilst the punchy percussion moments had a certain presence in the Tippett, the famous brass melody at the beginning of the final scene of Wagner’s Die Walküre was a little lost at the opening of the evening and didn’t quite ring out in the melodic way it typically does in so many performances. The strings gave their all in this moment, perhaps covering the brass and woodwind more than complementing their force. Nevertheless, the music had an impactful presence and when the theme returned in the final moments of the scene, it resurged with more conviction and confidence from the trombones and horns.

The closing scene of Die Walküre in concert form presented a welcome challenge. It was interesting to see how it functioned as a piece of music in its own right, unmarried as it was from the rest of the opera. It told the dramatic story of the eponymous Valkyrie, where the leader of the gods Wotan reprimands his daughter Brünnhilde for her disobedience. Sticking to Wagnerian tradition, there was undeniable romaticism and drama in the music, played by a very large BBC National Orchestra of Wales. No less than six harps were squeezed on stage, yet there was little interaction between the singers, divided as they were either side of the conductor's podium. As far as telling the story, it was a shame that there was no staging considered at all and in this sense, the pure concert format compromised the performance. Initially it seemed as though the outfits worn by both the soloists had been chosen to reflect their character in Die Walküre, but only one of them changed for the Tippett, so this may not have been the case. Frankfurt Opera's stunning picture depicting the scene in the programme was another cause for distraction. 

American soprano Tamara Wilson (Brünnhilde) and baritone James Creswell (Wotan) both made their Proms debuts. Wilson wore a gold-sequined, full-length dress and her voice was strong and elegant in not using too much vibrato. Her vibrato was stronger for the very high notes, pronoucing them more and enhancing the drama of Wagner's scoring. Wilson floated over the orchestra with ease and did not struggle, even effortlessly over the brass section. She moved around a lot in her vocal performance and was captivating to watch. The orchestra was perhaps a little string heavy and tended to smother Creswell's projection, but this could have been a result of how close the singers were to the string sections on stage. Cresswell's voice was deep and commanding in the role of Wotan, stamping his stern authority in character and wearing all black for dramatic effect.

After the interval the two singers became four, with Wilson and Creswell joined by mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley and tenor Peter Hoare for Tippett’s Child of Our Time. The oratorio was incredibly memorable thanks to an outstanding performance from the BBC National Chorus of Wales. The chorus members were placed in the higher seating behind the orchestra causing them to blanket the instrumental sound. Wigglesworth shone in Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, coordinating the big choral moments with large gestures and guiding the orchestra delicately through the sensitive moments, which ultimately led to a swelling spiritual for the climactic end to the piece and the evening.

****1