Last night of the proms, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

There was only one maestro in action at the Royal Albert Hall – Sir Roger Norrington – though Sue Perkins apparently made it as far as Hyde Park. But this year's Last Night of the Proms belonged to the big Welshman: Bryn Terfel. His operatic set pieces embraced love, lust and honour – fitting sentiments for a Last Night. There were nods to our rich folk heritage; a touching tribute to one of the featured composers, Vaughan Williams; and the return of Malcolm Sargent's arrangement of "Rule Britannia!" partly delivered in the mother tongue – Welsh, that is.

Bryn – as his albums now describe him – began soberly in his most honeyed head voice with Wolfram's ode to the evening star from Wagner's Tannhäuser. Scarpia then renounced God for Tosca with a lip-curling, snarling Terfel flinging his arms wide to encourage the chorus and organ-led orchestra to overwhelm him in the Act I "Te Deum". He then left the stage as Terfel and presently returned as Sir John Falstaff (in full make-up). So it was the fat, balding knight of the realm lecturing the leaner balding one, Sir Roger, on the virtues of "honour". And this was vintage Terfel. Few can make the word "Ladri!" ("Thieves!) rasp as if all his jowls are trembling with scorn. Made you hungry for the rest of the opera.

Like all Last Nights this was, by nature, a bitty affair – an end-of-term rumpus. Only the English could nod to the centenary of Rimsky-Korsakov's death with his wackily off-kilter arrangement of "Funiculi, funicula". But we can be serious and ironic, too, by inviting the French pianist of the moment, Hélène Grimaud, to exercise her rhythmic piquancy and panache on Beethoven's dress rehearsal for the Ninth Symphony's "Ode to Joy" – the Choral Fantasy in C minor. And even if relations between the English and the French are sometimes strained, the Welsh and the French, as in Terfel and Grimaud, were on intimate terms with Vaughan Williams's lovely song "Silent Noon".

This year it wasn't just the Henry Wood Fanfares that linked up the four nations of the union from parks across the land. Anna Meredith's new piece froms brought us together in what might best be described as a communal shout. Not as loud as Bryn's multi-national get-up for "Rule, Britannia!" but less restrained than Sir Roger's low-key speech. Still, he did write us a poem and he did remind us, on the back of the biggest and most diverse music festival in the world, that "in music we are one". Just so.

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