Royal Albert Hall, London
Classical review: Prom 31 - Ravishing, adventurous and fit for a queen
The music for the 1953 coronation, celebrated at the Proms, offers a bold precedent for future crownings
Saturday 10 August 2013
Probably not yet born, the composers of the royal music at the coronation of King George VII will not want for precedents. From Zadok the Priest to I Was Glad, English music is bolstered by the mighty anthems of Purcell, Handel and Parry. With broad, striding themes, William Walton whipped up Crown Imperial for Edward VIII, recycling it unused for George VI. His Orb and Sceptre for Elizabeth II is a masterpiece of Fifties musical iconography, with its lump-in-throat slow march evoking the past, and jazzy brass and rude percussion heralding a brisker future. As a curtain-raiser to Prom 31, with the BBC Philharmonic under John Storgards, it was a deliciously blousy bauble.
Rubbra's Ode to the Queen, commissioned by the BBC to mark the coronation in 1953, doesn't get out much. Settings of ravishing 17th century poetry, the three angular songs now seem remarkably adventurous for their time. Hard to imagine the Amazon Broadcasting Corporation funding anything as otherworldly in, say, 2083. Susan Bickley was the soloist, but it's easy to hear that the Ode was written with Kathleen Ferrier's darker, creamier sound in mind. She was too ill to sing by the time of the work's first performance, dying of breast cancer four months later.
Like Walton, Erich Korngold wrote film scores that took his music to a much wider audience than the concert hall, his curse as well as his salvation, for concert performances of his "serious" works are rare. With its questing opening movement, intricate Scherzo, and mighty Adagio, the captivating Symphony in F Sharp only ran out of steam in the fourth movement at its Proms debut. Some eyebrow-raising intonation apart, this was a memorable performance of a forgotten piece, a textbook Proms collector's item.
Bruch's Violin Concerto exhibited differences over tempi, and soloist Vilde Frang seemed a little overpowered emotionally and acoustically by the occasion, but this is an exceptional talent unfolding, and her wayward Norwegian folk tune encore was enthralling.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra was on absolutely scintillating form for Prom 32 (Royal Albert Hall, London ****), joined by Louis Lortie for Lutoslawski's exacting Piano Concerto. From its swarming, insect-like first movement and cat-and-mouse Presto to its hollowed and harrowed depiction of martial law in Poland and finale with its molecular structure, this was a captivating and pristine performance, forensically conducted by Edward Gardner and with outstanding solo work from all sections of the orchestra.
Proms favourite The Planets kicked off with a Mars that seemed more terrible and less foot-tapping in light of the Lutoslawki. Gardner went for big and bold, with only the women's voices of the BBC Symphony Orchestra magically receding to near-silence from a hidden eerie. Holst's Egdon Heath was a dull dish, if impeccably served, but the Lutoslawski Symphonic Varations, crisp and crackling, were a great starter.
I went to West Side Story primarily to hear Leonard Bernstein's suzzling score in a revival of the musical's 50th anniversary staging of 2008, the summer treat at Sadler's Wells. But every number was magnified by Jerome Robbins's brilliantly executed choreography in this spectacular and moving and topical production. The orchestral suite from the show is a concert hall staple, so it is a real thrill to hear these stupendous numbers and interludes from top to toe, Donald Chan driving an inexhaustible band. And while the male singing is at times imprecise, and the diction should be as crisp as the scintillating footwork, there's passion here that eludes many an opera. Solving the world's energy problems overnight is Penelope Armstead-Williams as Puerto Rican fireball Anita. Catch this for "America" alone: it's music's answer to sunshine. Fit for a king, in fact.
East meets West in the Royal Albert Hall, London tomorrow at the BBC Proms when Nishat Khan is the soloist in his own Sitar Concerto No 1, The Gate of the Moon. David Atherton conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which also plays Vaughan Williams’s London Symphony No 2. Also at the Proms, Sir Andrew Davis conducts Tippett’s opera The Midsummer Marriage on Friday. All Proms are also on Radio 3 and online.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Bruce Jenner's 'Interview of the year': Suicidal thoughts, rejection by family members and new wardrobe
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
- 4 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 5 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
MasterChef, TV review: The final climaxed in a frenzy of herbs and hyperbole
Everyday People project: Photographer Pablo Conejo placed an ad on Gumtree - and kickstarted a series of interesting encounters
Male student sues Columbia University for 'gender-based harassment' after alleged 'Mattress Performance' rape victim Emma Sulkowicz went public with claims
MasterChef 2015: Simon Wood named winner
Black Mass trailer: Johnny Depp might have started making good films again
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Katie Hopkins on LBC: Listen to caller taking The Sun columnist to task over migrant comments
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove