Last Night: Last Night of the Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London

4.00

Fleming and the Proms bow out on a high note

Was there ever an occasion in the Proms’ 116-year history where the penultimate night threatened to upstage the Last Night? Probably not – though in this the most successful season ever (and that’s official) a priceless book of church music collectively known as Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (1610) very nearly did.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner has been championing this music for over 40 years – he even named his choir after the composer: Monteverdi – but what made this evening of beautiful singing and sublime echoes so special was its vitality across time and space – almost as if the last two nights of the season were one – sacred and profane.

So what could the Last Night come up with to top the night before? Well, soprano Renee Fleming’s sensational Vivienne Westwood frock for starters. The Last Night usually boasts at least one musical superstar but rarely has the sound so perfectly reflected the attire. Fleming began with five orchestral songs by Strauss and if one had to choose a colour for this music, lustrous amethyst would do nicely. These songs are such a good fit for Fleming and her performances were full of illicit enticements. And yet this hall diminishes voices such as hers to all but those closest to her and it wasn’t until she returned after the interval for her two Czech arias (a nice bit of bonding with the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek) that the heroics of Milada from Smetana’s Dalibor and her signature “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s Rusalka heard her in full effusion. She sang the Dvorak with an indulgence befitting a Last Night, holding the high B “money note” at the close as if attempting to carry us through to next season. Oh, and she wore the embellishments of Rule, Britannia! like expensive accessories.

No less seductive a voice, though, was that of Ukrainian viola player Maxim Rysanov – a real artist who’s been having the last laugh on behalf of much-maligned violists everywhere. His transcription of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme almost made one forget that it had been composed for the cello. Myriad refinements brought depth and brilliance, virility and sensitivity, in equal measure. Sir Thomas Beecham’s description of the viola as the hermaphrodite of the string section seemed especially fitting.

The carnival had begun with a new Jonathan Dove curtain-raiser A Song of Joys, an exuberant choral setting of Walt Whitman (good for the “special relationship”) full of catchy syncopations and a witty alliterative orchestral response to Whitman’s words. It chimed well with Parry’s paean to “voice and verse” from another age and an altogether grander, fustier, brand of Englishness: Blest Pair of Sirens.

And so, urged on by Jiri Belohlavek’s charmingly fractured English we collectively did the business for “Jerusalem” and “Land of Hope and Glory”. But there was an addition to our somewhat lairy community singing this year – and that was “the football song” You’ll Never Walk Alone, a nod to the half-centenary of Oscar Hammerstein II’s death. But where was Renee Fleming when you really needed her?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits