Proms 2003 – Last Night

0 of 5 stars

Vaughan Williams
The Wasps – Overture
Introduction et Rondo capriccioso
Thais – Méditation
Prince Igor – Polovtsian Dances
Valurile Dunării – Muzica
La Wally – Ebben?… ne andrò lontana
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 Singers
BBC Symphony Chorus

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin

Recorded on 13 September 2003 in the Royal Albert Hall, London

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: September 2004
2564 61552-2
Duration: 77 minutes

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 Phibbs’s 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 aren’t 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 Williams’s 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 Josefowicz’s 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 Grigoriu’s ode to music is manifest in Gheorghiu’s 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.

Fauré’s 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 Wood’s 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 Wood’s other national confections, those on Welsh and Scottish melodies. Percy Grainger’s 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 arranger’s tongue ever-so-slightly in-cheek. The promenaders joined in full voice for “Rule Britannia”. As ever, we close with Parry’s “Jerusalem” in Elgar’s orchestration.

At a little over 77 minutes, this CD is certainly a good buy at mid-price. It’s 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: it’s an original and you won’t get anything more authentic – well, not until they release “Last Night 2004”.

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