The Cathcart Spring Proms

Music by Arne, Dvořák, Handel, Saint-Saëns, Bach, Grieg, Nyman, Ravel, Elmer Bernstein, Deep Purple, Robbie Williams, Survivor, Toby Young, Puccini, Holst, Henry Wood & Elgar

Jo Appleby (soprano)
Wynne Evans (tenor)
Victoria Goldsmith (violin)
Ben Baker (violin)

The Fanfare Trumpeters of the Grenadier Guards
Pipe Major Jim Motherwell and the Pipers of Eton College

Royal Choral Society
Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra
David Arnold

Angela Rippon – Host

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 17 May, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This is the twelfth annual concert of the Cathcart Spring Proms. It is sub-titled “A celebration of music” but in fact in commemorates the man who helped found what we now know as the BBC Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. An unsung hero in the annals of classical music, Dr Cathcart was an ear, nose and throat specialist who had a particular interest in the problems of voice production experienced by singers. He was born in Edinburgh in 1860 but moved to London in 1891 to work at the Children’s Hospital in Great Ormond Street. He met conductor Henry Wood and businessman Robert Newman who were both keen to start promenade concerts.

Cathcart had two provisos. He was an advocate of the diapason normal pitch used by continental musicians, whereas Britain favoured the higher pitch that was a strain on singers’ voices. He would put up the money for the concerts if Wood could establish the low pitch in British orchestras and if Wood was the sole conductor.

Even now we think of The Proms as being the work of just Henry Wood, but without Cathcart they might never have taken off. The first season in 1895 was not a commercial success. Forty-two concerts, six nights a week for seven weeks was a lot to sell, and the tickets didn’t! A few concerts brought full houses, but most made a loss. However, Cathcart persevered and by the end of the first season Wood was well-known enough to carry on with further seasons. Eventually the BBC took over the responsibility and the underwriting of the costs and the Proms survive to this day.

The Cathcart Spring Proms offers a little of everything, mostly short works or excerpts and arias, and ending with part of Henry Wood’s “Fantasia on British sea-songs”, “Rule, Britannia” and “Land of hope and glory”, much like the usual Last night of the Proms. After a rousing version of the National Anthem, including the often-ignored second verse, the concert opened with the orchestra playing a spirited version of Dvořák’s Carnival Overture. The Royal Choral Society then sang Handel’s “Zadok the Priest”, so familiar from every coronation since George II and from various commercials. The young (16-year-old) virtuoso violinist Victoria Goldsmith, one of last year’s finalists in the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, played Saint-Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, coaxing a beautiful tone from her instrument. Ben Baker, this year’s winner of the Cathcart Concerto Award (part of the Cathcart Education Programme that fosters young musical talent), played the first movement of Bach’s Double Concerto with Rolf Wilson, leader of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. At just 17 Ben is obviously destined for great things. The first half ended with ‘Morning’ from Grieg’s music to Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”, the main theme from Michael Nyman’s score for the film “The Piano”, and a hypnotic account of Ravel’s Boléro in which conductor David Arnold also proved how good a drummer he is.

After the recent Classical Brit Awards, it is good to hear real classical music played at the Royal Albert Hall, instead of souped-up, dumbed-down versions. The orchestra played everything straight, proving you don’t have to turn classical music into a sound-bite to make it popular.

The second half opened with the Royal Anniversary Dedication, a tribute to HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in their 60th year of marriage. This was given by Pipe Major Jim Motherwell, the tenth Queen’s Piper, and his pipe students from Eton College. The hit of the evening was their cheerful rendition of Elmer Bernstein’s theme from “The Magnificent Seven”. Then followed Paul Hart’s arrangements of music by Deep Purple, Robbie Williams and Survivor. When they try to dumb down classical music it sounds awful, but symphonic arrangements of rock tunes are only an improvement and here they sounded terrific, and the Royal Choral Society seemed to be having a blast too.

Toby Young is the Cathcart Composer of the Year. His Love Sick is an overture for orchestra in memory of Edward Elgar. It’s a very pleasant piece that takes its cue from the heyday of British light music – the time of Ronald Binge, Eric Coates, Vivian Ellis, Trevor Duncan – you know, the sort of music you heard in “Melody on the Move” on the Light programme in the 1950s, all mostly inspired by the spirit of Elgar. Perhaps Toby Young is the new Elgar…

After soprano Jo Appleby sang ‘Song to the Moon’ from Dvořák’s “Rusalka”, she was joined by tenor Wynne Evans for a “Madama Butterfly” duet, ‘Vieni,vieni, la sera’. Their strong voices were, however, marred by bad stage microphones, which made them sound muddy. The last item before the finale was ‘I vow to thee my country’, that ghastly hymn fashioned from part of Holst’s The Planets. Conveying quite the wrong mood – ‘Jupiter’ is, after all, ‘the bringer of jollity’ and not maudlin patriotic sentiments.

So, a good if undemanding evening with lots of applause and flag-waving at the end during the ‘Sailor’s hornpipe’, “Rule, Britannia” and Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 (‘Land of Hope and Glory’). Host Angela Rippon was at her usual professional best with the introductions, but did we need to go home to the strains of The Rolling Stones and “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction”? Or was it a joke?

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