Feature Concert Review – Cathcart Spring Proms

Written by: Michael Darvell

The Cathcart Spring Proms: the thirteenth annual concert in memory of Dr George Cathcart and in aid of World Wide Fund for Nature

Music by Arne, Berlioz, Beethoven, Stanley Myers, Falla, Mascagni, Brahms, Mozart, Holst, Pärt, Vivaldi (arr. Paul Hart), Beethoven (arr. Hart), Blair Russell, Di Capua, Puccini, Henry Wood, John Hughes, Elgar & Parry

Wynne Evans (tenor), Judith Howarth (soprano), Richard Durrant & Yuki Osa (guitars), Alex Stobbs (piano)

Jim Motherwell BEM – Pipe Major

Pipers of Eton College

Fanfare Trumpeters of the Grenadier Guards

Cantorion Welsh Male Voice Choir

Eclipse Electric String Quartet

Royal Choral Society

Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra

David Arnold

Angela Rippon – Presenter

Thursday 15 May 2008

Royal Albert Hall, London

It might be a couple of months early but Cathcart Spring Proms is the prototype for BBC Proms or Henry Wood Promenade Concerts as they were called for many years.

The annual Cathcart Spring Prom concert, now in its thirteenth year, is dedicated Dr George Cathcart, an Edinburgh ear, nose and throat specialist with an interest in voice production who, when he moved to London in 1891 to work at the Children’s Hospital in Great Ormond Street, had the idea of staging Promenade Concerts. Meeting conductor Henry Wood and businessman Robert Newman, Cathcart advocated the use of the ‘diapason normal pitch’ for singers, which was in general use on the Continent but not in Britain which then used the higher pitch that caused strain to singers’ voices. He promised to underwrite the cost of the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts, if Newman established the lower pitch and if Wood was the sole conductor.

The first season of concerts was programmed over seven weeks, with concerts six nights a week. Complete success was not, however, forthcoming, with many concerts losing money. But Cathcart did not give in; he may have lost money, but he achieved his aim. The ‘diapason normal’ was accepted as standard concert pitch, the idea of the Proms was born and Henry Wood made a name for himself. The rest is musical history.

The Cathcart Spring Proms concert is more akin to “The Last Night of The Proms”: lots of short classical pieces covering a wide spectrum and mainly from the popular side of the repertoire. The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society was conducted by David Arnold, beginning the evening with Gordon Jacob’s arrangement of the UK “National Anthem” including the second verse to which hardly anybody knows the words. Host Angela Rippon then introduced Berlioz’s ‘March to the Scaffold’ from Symphonie fantastique and the ‘Ode to Joy’ part of Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony, which showed off the Royal Choral Society to full advantage. ‘Cavatina’, written for piano by Stanley Myers for the film “The Deer Hunter”, was re-written for guitar at the request of John Williams. Richard Durrant played it on his own Concert Model instrument made by Gary Hearn. He was then joined by Yuki Osa, an undergraduate student at the Royal College of Music, for a arranged duet from Falla’s “La vida breve” – quiet, gentle but passionate: even in the Royal Albert Hall less can mean more.

The Orchestra then played the ‘Intermezzo’ from Mascagni’s one-act opera “Cavalleria rusticana” and Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.5; two choices for ‘hundred best tunes’. Alex Stobbs is the 18-year-old piano student and former King’s College Cambridge chorister who now has a place at the Royal Academy of Music and will be taking up a choral scholarship at King’s. He is also battling against cystic fibrosis, the degenerative disease that clogs the lungs. In spite of this he still managed to conduct Bach’s “Magnificat” at Eton College last year. For the Cathcart Prom he played the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 (K467) – as used in the film “Elvira Madigan” – proving that, if he can keep his illness under control, he has a brilliant future ahead. Alex Stobbs received this year’s Cathcart Concerto Award.

‘Jupiter’ from Holst’s “The Planets” seems to have become an annual fixture for the Cathcart concert, along with Henry Wood’s “Fantasia on British Sea Songs”, “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory” (aka Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 by Elgar). But is it really necessary to include Sir Cecil Spring-Rice’s patriotic words of “I vow to thee my country” which were tagged on to the middle section of Holst’s ‘Jupiter’, allegedly the ‘Bringer of Jollity’? When the composer was asked to write a new hymn for Spring-Rice’s lyrics, but didn’t have the time, he found that the words fitted ‘Jupiter’ – but they are hardly jolly, just maudlin.

The second-half of the concert opened with Arvo Pärt’s version of “Ave Maria” from the Orthodox liturgy and continued with a medley of favourite tunes played by HM the Queen’s piper, Jim Motherwell, Pipe Major at Eton College, whose last public performance this was before his retirement. With his young student pipers led by Cadet Major Jamie Graham they performed famous Scottish marches, music from the film “The Last of the Mohicans”, Bryan Adams’s ‘Everything I do, I do it for you’ and, of course, ‘Amazing Grace’. And there was not a dry eye in the house. Poor Vivaldi (The Four Seasons, what else!) and Beethoven (the first movement of Symphony No.5!!) had to suffer the indignity of having their music played in souped-up arrangements for the electric string quartet Eclipse in an unnecessary piece of crossover that took the edge of the rest of the programme. Do the Cathcart Spring Proms really have to go the way of the Classical BRITS?

For this year’s charity, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Computacenter Cathcart Young Film Composer of the Year contestants had to write a piece of music to accompany film of the Amazon rain-forest. The winner was Blair Russell (17) whose “Encompassing of the Incompassionate” has a touch of Elgar to it, a nicely judged piece of dignified music that the Orchestra played with compassion.

Part of this year’s programme was a tribute to the late Luciano Pavarotti, with Wynne Evans singing ‘O sole mio’ and ‘Nessun dorma’ (“Turandot”) in the style of Pavarotti and duetting with Judith Howarth in ‘Vieni, vieni la sera’ from “Madama Butterfly”. In Henry Wood’s “Fantasia on British Sea Songs”, the audience could not refrain from joining in. Then it’s a quick spurt to the end via “Rule, Britannia!”, “Cwm Rhondda”, “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Jerusalem”. It’s a great audience-pleaser of an evening and with much waving the Union Flag. It’s a grand night for singing and this one should run and run, just like Henry Wood’s Proms still do.

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