The Wasps Overture Saint-Saëns
Introduction et Rondo capriccioso Fauré
Thais Méditation Borodin
Prince Igor Polovtsian Dances Grigoriu
Valurile Dunării Muzica Catalani
La Wally Ebben?... ne andrò lontana Elgar
Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 Wood & Grainger (arr. Wilson and Jackson)
Fantasia on British Sea-Songs Parry, orch. Elgar
Leila Josefowicz (violin)
Angela Gheorghiu (soprano)
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Recorded on 13 September 2003 in the Royal Albert Hall, London
CD No: WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61552-2 Duration: 77 minutes Reviewed: September 2004
Proms 2003 Last Night
Reviewed by Chris Caspell
It is difficult to review the Last Night of the Proms without becoming wrapped up in its unique atmosphere. It is, though, an enlightening task, to revisit the 2003 Last Night from a more objective standpoint.
Of the ten selections what a great shame that Joseph Phibbss Last Night commission, Lumina, has been excluded four are by English composers from the twentieth and late-nineteenth century; three are French (broadly similar period) with the remainder being Italian, Russian and Romanian. There is little for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Slatkin to get their teeth into, not a symphony or concerto in sight. Does the concert, here pruned, seem ragged and good in parts? Actually, no.
A truism and tradition of concert programming states that there arent many better ways to open a concert than with an overture. A corollary to this might be that there are few overtures better to open the second half of the Last night of the Proms than Vaughan Williamss The Wasps. The opening buzzing represents the jurors of ancient Athens, the piece written as incidental music to a play by Aristophanes. Slatkin and the BBCSO enjoy every moment of this work with some snarling brass and some fine string playing both.
The first of Leila Josefowiczs two outings, the Saint-Saëns is technically superb but lacks the musicality that belies the accolades she has to her name. The Méditation from Thais fails in the same degree as each bar becomes as rigid as the last: ignorance of the fact that the bar is merely the box in which the notes reside.
The second soloist is Angela Gheorghiu. There is certainly something of the Roma in her stunning beauty but perhaps she has been miscast in what are essentially two romantic parlour pieces. The clarity and understanding of Grigorius ode to music is manifest in Gheorghius rendition, which is skilfully accompanied by Slatkin. Unfortunately such clarity is absent from the aria from La Wally Gheorghiu appears to have difficulty, particularly in her Italian pronunciation.
Faurés Pavane is often taken too slowly; here Leonard Slatkin gets it about right. The choral version is performed, incorporating the Arcadian verses of Robert de Montesquiou. The CD booklet includes complete texts and translations for all the vocal and choral works here: first-class standards by Warner Classics, which includes tangible recording quality, the pieces nattily edited.
Diction is a feature and often a curse for choruses. Things become particularly tricky with a choir the size of the BBC Singers and Symphony Chorus and in the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall. On the whole such matters fair well here, particularly in the new version of Henry Woods Sea Songs, including Rule Britannia. From a choral point of view, the traditional end to the Last Night is anticlimactic with very little for the choir to do save join in. In this new arrangement of the Wood and in recognition of the Proms in the Park events held in Swansea, Glasgow and Belfast, the opportunity was taken to update the Fantasia with music from Woods other national confections, those on Welsh and Scottish melodies. Percy Graingers Irish Tune from County Derry (aka Danny Boy) and ever the butt of schoolboy humour as the Londonderry Air is a further addition.
The first of the new arrangements All through the night is sumptuously orchestrated with harmony that is unlikely to have originated from Wood original but delightful all the same. The second Charlie is my darling would not be out of place in the latest Harry Potter movie, the arrangers tongue ever-so-slightly in-cheek. The promenaders joined in full voice for Rule Britannia. As ever, we close with Parrys Jerusalem in Elgars orchestration.
At a little over 77 minutes, this CD is certainly a good buy at mid-price. Its been interesting listening to this event without the party sentimentality that Nick Breckenfield mentions in his review of the concert itself. The CD contains a mixture of rarely heard and standard repertoire. Stating the obvious, the disc also includes those pieces that you rarely find outside of the Last Night. For anyone wanting a Last Night souvenir, buy this one: its an original and you wont get anything more authentic well, not until they release Last Night 2004.