Prom 23: Lemalu/London Brass/BBC NOW/Otaka; Prom 24: Noguera/Cuadrado


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The Independent Culture

If Prom 22 seemed flung together at random - nothing related to anything else - Prom 23 was, if anything, too much all of a piece.

It opened with Tadaaki Otaka leading the strings of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales into Vaughan Williams’s ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’, which radiated generous warmth. As the modal theme was carried from instrument to instrument then up to a string quartet in the gods, one could appreciate how perfectly it suited this space.

Then Delius’s gentle tone-poem ‘The Walk to the Paradise Garden’ was delivered with similar assurance, its textures clear and its solo lines beautifully brought out. But why on earth did anyone imagine we might want to hear John Ireland’s ‘ These Things Shall Be’? Fired by lofty Thirties idealism, this quasi-cantata struck a chord with World War Two audiences, but with its wearyingly declamatory four-square harmonies it’s now just a museum-piece, and neither it nor we deserved this cruel exhumation.

Moreover, with the Samoan baritone Jonathan Lemalu as soloist, it had on this occasion an extra impediment, in that Lemalu seems to be in serious vocal trouble: gone is his customary burnished tone, to be replaced - one hopes temporarily - by a squally vibrato and a thinly unsupported sound. He was also the soloist in Walton’s ‘ Belshazzar’s Feast’, but was drowned out by the splendid singing of the National Chorus of Wales with the BBC Symphony Chorus, who brought this brightly-coloured work pulsatingly to life.

The Colombian accordionist Jose Hernando Arias Noguera was born and bred in London, but the World Routes Academy took him back to the land of his fathers to school him in the local vallenato style: Prom 24, in which he shared the stage with his mentor Egidio Cuadrado and his band, was the exhilarating result. Vallenato is rough stuff, with poundingly regular rhythms and cheerful melodies, and since vocal and instrumental duelling is an integral part of any performance, Noguera and Cuadrado fought it out with engaging vigour.

At the start the arena was almost empty, but after fifteen minutes it was full of dancing couples: London’s Colombian community had come for a knees-up, and to hell with the bog-standard amplification.