….give the Last Night of the Proms ‘a last chance’ (see August 18). I was both curious to see how the rather strange programme would go, and nostalgic for the event I suppose. But also because Mark Elder was the conductor, and together with many others I have a very high opinion of his capabilities. He has brought Manchester’s Halle Orchestra back to its previous glory and because of the time and attention he gives to the orchestra, reminded people of the golden Barbirolli years. He certainly conducted this rather odd programme with springing rhythms and precise playing of a quality not always typical of last night performances. The familiar Fantasia on British Sea Songs was beautiful and not just a crowd-pleaser. This year the five ‘Proms in the Park’ venues in London, Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester and Swansea were linked with the Albert Hall by satellite, responding to the trumpet calls that begin the Fantasia as well as an inter-play of regional folk songs by choirs in each of the parks.
Elder made the usual speech near to the end of the three hour concert and courted the familiar danger of taking too long over it. When you are addressing the world I suppose the temptation is almost irresistible to speak at length. He saved himself however by being serious with the audience about two matters. One was political. He complained that musicians were being prevented from performing because under new security measures they were prevented from taking their instruments on planes as hand luggage. (I had heard the violinist Joshua Bell say on Thursday evening that as soon as his performance of Bruch’s Concerto was over his assistant had had to take his violin and catch a train with it to Munich so that there he could perform on it the next day.) And then Elder spoke enthusiastically about singing and how schools and choirs everywhere should rejoice in the human voice.
And the music? At the risk of playing the critic again, the first half of the Concert didn’t work for me at all. It was a strange hotchpotch of Russian, Italian, British and German music which though performed superbly by Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Victoria Mullova and the BBC Symphony at its best, had no sense of continuity and unexpectedly one was left longing for the second half.
That was fine and although I dreaded the unrealistic jingoism of ‘Rule Britannia’, this year it was sung entirely by the choir in a beautiful new arrangement and without the ‘star turn’ of a soloist we have come to expect. The usual array of Union Jacks in the audience were complemented by the flags of many other nations as well, which was fine. Parry’s setting of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ in Elgar’s arrangement, was a good ending for us, and we switched off the TV before the National Anthem and Auld Lang Syne and went to bed, happily looking forward to the 113th.