Richard III – Prelude [arr. Muir Mathieson]
Love’s Labour’s Lost – Suite [selections]
The Tempest – Overture to Act IV
As You Like It – a poem for orchestra after Shakespeare [arr. Christopher Palmer]
The Winter’s Tale – Springtime Dance
West Side Story – Symphonic Dances
Kiss Me, Kate [selections]
The Boys from Syracuse [selections]
Graham Bickley, Anna-Jane Casey, Sarah Eyden, Joseph Shovelton & Hannah Waddingham (singers)
BBC Concert Orchestra
Reviewed by: Brian Barford
Reviewed: 18 August, 2016
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Shakespeare is not just the most-performed playwright for the stage but also the most filmed author for the screen. A well-devised Proms programme showed this variety with a British first half and a second devoted to American musicals. Shakespeare’s stage-works are full of music and there are more than 100 songs scattered throughout the thirty-seven plays.
William Walton has composed arguably the most-famous scores for Shakespeare films. The concert opened with the ‘Prelude’ to Laurence Olivier’s Richard III, with ringing brass and a brisk march not far away from Crown Imperial. It matches perfectly the film in its sense both of the past and mid-twentieth-century British romanticism. The BBC Concert Orchestra and Keith Lockhart played it with passion, although its soaring melody needed more opulence from the strings.
There was further Walton, from his earlier score for As You Like It – arranged by Christopher Palmer from the music for Paul Czinner’s 1936 film with Olivier and Elizabeth Bergner. It’s a shame the full work wasn’t given. It consciously contains ‘period’ music but there are fine things in it and Walton captures both the satirical and pastoral sides of the play. Gerald Finzi’s Love’s Labour’s Lost Suite, compiled from music for a 1946 BBC Radio production and a later open-air staging. It is not Finzi at his most distinctive but it has some character especially depicting Moth the rustic servant and a ‘Nocturne’ with a sombre trumpet solo. Some of the playing was lacking in polish and further rehearsal would not have gone amiss.
Arthur Sullivan’s music for The Tempest was his first published work, a graduation piece while a student in Leipzig. It is scored for full orchestra and the influence of Mendelssohn, especially, is obvious. The ‘Overture to Act Four’ was despatched diligently here. ‘Springtime Dance’ from Joby Talbot’s score for Christopher Wheeldon’s splendid ballet A Winter’s Tale offered choppy rhythms and heady sonorities, suggesting an unusual meeting between Stravinsky and Lalo Schifrin, but it works very well as a showpiece and enjoyed snappy playing, the central string melody given lyrical impulse. The rather brutal final section suggests this springtime will have sinister undertones.
American creators’ responses to Shakespeare are best when being irreverent. The three great musicals represented here are examples of this. Lockhart emerged for the second half with his jacket off and sleeves rolled up. He is a natural showman and later executed a stylish waltz with Sarah Eyden in Richard Rodgers’s ‘Falling in Love with Love’ and a brief soft-shoe-shuffle.
The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, arranged by Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal (the show’s orchestrators) was brought off with energy and drive. The playing was rumbustious if with occasional touches of roughness. The skilful moments of transition, as in the flute solo linking the ‘Rumble’ and the cathartic ‘Finale’ were well observed.
Selections from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate were performed by five seasoned music-theatre stars and included ‘Always True to You’, particularly well done by Anna-Jane Casey with warmth and exemplary diction.
Richard Rodgers composed The Boys from Syracuse in 1938 with lyrics by Lorenz Hart and it was the first Broadway musical based on Shakespeare. It remains an underrated show – yet with melodic invention, theatricality, harmonic surprises and a sense of mischief second to none. The BBC Concert Orchestra was in its best dance-band mode by now. The singers responded in style and the chosen numbers were performed with energy and style. ‘Sing For Your Supper’ and ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ ended the evening, the former almost a tribute to the Andrews Sisters. After that, I really fancied another dinner.