Review - A Night at the Ballet at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Visiting a ballet can be an assault on the senses - albeit a pleasant one.

Traditional Russian ballets, for example, are usually set to a magnificent score but are also equipped with stunning dancers and sumptuous costumes. Take the individual components apart from one another and do they lose anything through being judged on their own?

This was the question provoked by the Royal and Derngate's latest concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - A Night at the Ballet, held last night (SUNDAY).

Without a single dancer on the stage, conductor Nathan Fifield led the audience through an appreciation of some immensely beautiful pieces of music intended for dance.

The musical line-up included Smetana's The Bartered Bride Dance of the Comedians, Delibes' Suite from Sylvia and Coppelia: Prelude and Mazurka, Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake Suite and Suite from The Sleeping Beauty and Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre.

Knowing the ballet Swan Lake so well, it was interesting to hear the music performed simply by an orchestra on the stage. I found myself imagining the dancers enacting the story at first, but then started to appreciate the balanced power and delicacy of Tchaikovsky's score - music that brings together driving strings and elegant passages for harp.

As ever, the RPO's performance was flawless, bringing the perfect amount of expression and musical story-telling to every single piece.

Nathan Fifield's introductions to the various sections of the concert really helped to open up the music for appreciation by those familiar with ballet, and also by those who know little about it. I really enjoyed his introduction to The Sleeping Beauty in which he talked about how effectively it represents the human experience and reflected on Tchaikovsky's own mental state; one theory being the composer took his own life by drinking unclean water and catching cholera.

Another highlight for me was a wonderful rendition of Danse Macabre. Popular today due to its use in the TV programme Jonathan Creek, I love its creepy, jagged rhythms and the way it evokes the dance of the dead. Nathan's introduction to this was also darkly humorous, focusing on the stories of conductors who had died suddenly while at work.

To find out more about the RPO's forthcoming concerts in Northampton, visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk or ring the box office on 01604 624811.