Prom 7: BBC SO/Belohlavek, Royal Albert Hall, London
Friday 21 July 2006
The Queen may not have been amused by the Prom given in honour of her 80th birthday. But she must surely have been - as were the rest of the five or six thousand souls in the audience, to say nothing of the several hundred on stage - baked, boiled and, finally, not so gently roasted in a sweaty Albert Hall on a hellishly warm night. The heat and the tight security had not, however, deterred a rather sinister-looking man in the arena waving a large Royal Standard; Her Majesty seemed to enjoy his pre-Last Night antics.
What she made of her Master of the Queen's Music's A Little Birthday Music, commissioned for the occasion, wasn't clear, however, though in the pre-Prom talk Sir Peter Maxwell Davies had gone to some lengths to explain how both the Queen and Prince Philip are actually rather keen on classical music. The composer, by the way, appears to be making an excellent job of his Mastership.
Davies's birthday ode starts with orchestra alone in a fairly typical example of the later "Max" style. But after the usual classical practices have been observed, if in miniature, a entire royal kitchen sink is deployed in the concluding setting of the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion's "The Golden Rule".
About 300 schoolchildren sang in unison; the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Scots Guards Band, complete with busbies, trumpeted from below the organ. The tune of this setting is cannily devised: direct and approachable, but with distinctive turns typical of its creator. Yet, as a whole, this 15-minute piece scarcely adds up.
Great playing is not really to be expected on a night as awesome as well as so hot. Yet the 17-year-old Julian Bliss delivered a moving account of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, almost disturbingly mellow from someone so young, using a basset clarinet with some lovely low notes.
And after Bryn Terfel had been presented, by Her Majesty herself, with the Queen's Medal for Music, and had sung "My Little Welsh Home", Jiri Belohlavek brought the evening to a close with a genial performance of Dvorak's New World Symphony: lovely woodwind playing, but it was a shame that the brass were rather flustered by the heat.
BBC Proms to 9 September (020-7589 8212; www.bbc.co.uk/proms)
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