#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 1 – Prombassadors: Jon James

Jonathan James

Jonathan James

Jonathan James
Jon James is a music educator and writer, well known in Bristol for his series of illustrated talks in the city’s concert venues.

Bryn Terfel – My Life in Song
Bristol Proms – Mon 28th July 2014

I’m only half Welsh, but Welsh enough to brim up and quiver when I hear Bryn Terfel sing folk songs from his youth in his mother tongue.  He is the model Bard, inhabiting every song and making it feel utterly authentic, whether a folk-song from his first Eisteddfod or a Wagner aria.  We learned a lot from his conversation with John Suchet, not least how proud he is of his roots.  ‘Not bad for a farmer’s son’ he quipped, having raised the roof with a thunderous Wagner aria.  Yet he manages to be both farmer and King on stage, standing ox-like and strong, cherishing each word – each word – as he sings.  His diction is superlative, no matter which language (and there were four on effortless display this afternoon). He also has the most mesmerisingly malleable and expressive mouth.  I’ve never seen so many lip-shapes in one phrase!

Bryn Terfel Photography Mark Douet

Bryn Terfel Photography Mark Douet

We were all, I expect, waiting for that moment when he would reprise one of his famed Wagnerian roles, and the Donner aria was indeed thrilling.  His voice turned from bronze to gold, and you realised how well he had weighted the preceding songs.  In the encore, Terfel sang of a dragon who ate small children and, by luck, there happened to be a small boy right in front of him in the pit, to whom he addressed his snarls and monsterly threats (with a wink at the end).  It was a performance that boy will surely never forget.  And neither shall we.  What a fantastic start to the Proms week.

Lisa Batiashvili and the Batiashvili Bristol Proms Ensemble
Bristol Proms – Mon 28th July 2014

Dancing Bach

The music was airborne yesterday: Bach danced on tiptoes. It was a yin-yang of intimacy and extroversion, sometimes chamber, sometimes a Baroque disco. Batiashvili and Leleux were dynamic and attentive to every nuance throughout. It was a flawless performance that seemed sprung from the superb bassist upwards, everybody aloft and alert.

Lisa Batiashvili Photography Mark Douet

Lisa Batiashvili Photography Mark Douet

When Bach is played like this, with a period sensibility and with real imagination, every gesture has something to say. The music breathes and takes on a life of its own. I was captivated throughout. The only disappointment was not to be able to hear more of the Piazzolla, which made such a great counterpoint to the Bach with its heart-on-sleeve exuberance. The highlight, though, was the wonderful duet between violin and oboe d’amore in ‘Erbarme Dich’. I knew what sound to expect from the oboe d’amore – an almost Middle Eastern richness – but when Leleux played the first supplication (‘Have Mercy on me, O Lord’), it took my breath away. Such an exquisite tone, and as throughout the programme, every line was sung with such musicality.

Batiashvili is clearly at home with Bach. She has a pure, no-frills approach with a lightness of touch that encourages the same from the accompaniment. And that was the lasting impression of the music for me: how it bubbled and flowed, how superbly controlled the quieter moments were and how having a small collective on stage allowed it to say so, so much more.

#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 1 – Prombassadors: Guy Withers
#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 1 – Prombassadors: Mark Edmundson
#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 1 – Prombassadors: Rebecca ‘Nell’ Snell


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