Proms 2003 – Royal Concert

0 of 5 stars

Coronation Te Deum
Sea Pictures
November Woods
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell)

Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano)

Choristers of Winchester Cathedral
Winchester College Quiristers
Members of Eton College Chapel Choir
BBC Singers
BBC Symphony Chorus

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis

Recorded on 30 July 2003 in the Royal Albert Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: July 2004
CD No: WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61550-2
Duration: 70 minutes

This is one of five CDs that Warner Classics has issued using material from the 2003 season of BBC Proms. This release includes four pieces from ‘The Royal Prom’, which was attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Away from the hype and stage-management of the occasion itself, these four performances now make more gratifying listening than at the time.

Sometimes with BBC Radio 3 broadcasts (including Proms) the sound produced seems as much concerned with ambience than with something focussed and tangible. The reproduction here is excellent, less like a broadcast and more like a studio production; one is aware of an audience but not distracted by it, and the irritating applause that interrupted Sea Pictures has been excised.

Walton’s glorious, life-enhancing Coronation Te Deum (written for the present Queen’s installation) is realised in vivid fashion. Andrew Davis’s love for the music shines through. Only the organ (not the in-house instrument now restored) seems a bit lightweight, and slightly below pitch, but there are plenty of thrilling and eloquent moments as this great piece is unfurled with panache.

That the Victoriana of Sea Pictures isn’t overblown is thanks to an orchestral accompaniment of tact and clarity. Catherine Wyn-Rogers has just the right amount of amplitude to ride the waves, as it were, and delights with her quiet singing and depth of feeling during intimate moments.

2003 marked fifty years since Sir Arnold Bax died. (He was at one time the Master of the King’s Music.) November Woods is a First World War piece. For all its strong narrative and glowing impressionism, the turbulent and sombre side of the music also reflects the times in which November Woods was composed. As that great Bax champion Vernon Handley has said, the secret to a successful Bax rendition is not to play him like another composer. It’s a secret that Andrew Davis shares, for here one is aware of an individual voice rather than finding likeness to Rachmaninov, Sibelius and Strauss; although anyone responding to those composers’ music should find a home for Bax too.

If the Britten, something of a BBCSO/Andrew Davis party-piece, lacks poise occasionally, the orchestra responds with alert playing – there’s some especially fine woodwind contributions – and Britten’s ingenious variations are finely characterised and joyously apotheosised.

The booklet includes notes on the music, texts, and a gallery of photos.

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