Proms at St Jude’s – The Last Night

Walton
Crown Imperial
Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Haydn
Trumpet Concerto in E flat
Elgar
Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 in D, Op.39
Henry Wood
Fantasia on British Sea Songs
Parry
Jerusalem

Nicola Elmer (piano)

Deborah Calland (trumpet)

Grace Durham (soprano)

Southbank Sinfonia
Simon Over


Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 22 June, 2008
Venue: St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London

Sir William Turner Walton, OM (1902-83) in 1972. Photograph: BBCOutside the church, Union Flags were on sale. A large marquee billowed with people, drinks and food. The church itself was packed, with seats for all – no promenaders. Bubbling and eager, the locality was out in force, as if at some great party. People greeted each other warmly, relishing the fact that all three of the night’s soloists had grown up in the Suburb and basking in the news that the week’s concerts had raised some £3,000 for charities (Toynbee Hall and the London Hospice). Conductor Simon Over introduced each item anecdotally and entertainingly, speaking amongst friends.

We stood for the National Anthem, which blazed vigorously, reminding me of Sir Thomas Beecham’s insistence on vitality; we sang some of the words – and had our first hearing of Grace Durham’s voice.

Crown Imperial, commissioned for George VI’s Coronation, swaggered grandly, evidencing that Walton could indeed wear Elgar’s mantle. Vividly, Edwardian pomp lived again – recalling the heyday of Dame Henrietta Barnett’s vision of a “green and pleasant land”.

We were then treated to a ravishing account of Beethoven’s sunniest and most adventurous piano concerto. Nicola Elmer instantly and deftly found the character she wished to display. With self-awareness and composure she set the tone. Over and the Southbank Sinfonia played lightly and nimbly in response. Soloist and Sinfonia were in continuing dialogue. The Andante con moto began gravely but not ponderously, proceeding with dignity towards the sublime conclusion from Elmer alone – a last word ascending higher still. The finale danced with high-spirited joy.

Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto was somewhat less successful. Deborah Calland played the melodies with aplomb, enjoying their tunefulness. She also handled ornaments dexterously. Yet the outcome was not quite confident, Calland seeming nervous. Although she delivered handfuls of ornaments without mishap (recovering speedily from her one or two almost-fluffs), they were not keen: her notes were insufficiently defined individually and, overall, lacked swagger or presence. During these moments, Over conducted most discreetly and the Sinfonia played unobtrusively yet with spirit.

We then entered the home stretch, uproariously and gustily. The youthful, surging vitality of the Sinfonia together with the serious-minded, responsible professionalism of Over ensured that those warhorses of the Last Night had vigour, splendour and resurgence. These pieces were exhilarating and exciting. Their pulse had the power to lay foes waste. The audience rose to its feet in strong, contributing fervour and waved flags exultantly. The roof swelled from the audience’s collective voice as we once again, with Grace Durham mightily declaiming the way, “ruled the waves” and “built Jerusalem”.

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