Saturday 7 September 2013

Proms 2013 – A memorable Last Night from Marin Alsop and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with Joyce DiDonato, Iestyn Davies and Nigel Kennedy

Much has been made of the fact that tonight’s (7th September 2013) Last Night of the Proms was to be conducted, for the first time, by a woman. I prefer just to say that it was conducted by one of the finest and most versatile conductors that we have today, Marin Alsop.

Marin Alsop and the BBC Symphony Orchestra  opened the evening  with a BBC commission by Anna Clyne, Masquerade, that opened with a swirling of strings that led to dance like passages with ever changing variations and full of brass and percussion at the end.

Wagner’s overture Die Meistersingers von Nürnberg followed, receiving a weighty performance with terrific breadth and sweep.

Marin Alsop, who was a student of Leonard Bernstein, brought great vitality to the opening of his Chichester Psalms, with some gutsy orchestral playing in the opening section. Iestyn Davies was magnificent in Psalm 23 as were the BBC Chorus in Psalm 2. Searing strings opened Part 3 before some moments of exquisite tender and sensitive playing. There was a fine choral Psalm 131 and a beautifully hushed Psalm 133 to end. A terrific performance.

Nigel Kennedy  joined Marin Alsop and the orchestra to give a truly rhapsodic performance of Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending. What a gorgeous tone Kennedy showed, full of character and together with Alsop and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he brought out so much from this lovely piece with such freedom of expression.

Britten’s The Building of the House Op. 79 brought another psalm setting in this work of which the opening contains somewhat diffuse chromatic writing that only opens up when the chorus enters. This was nevertheless a fine performance with a terrific choral ending.

Surely mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato’s voice has it all; power, accuracy, control, richness, agility and purity which she showed to the full in Massenet’s Je suis gris! Je suis ivre! from Chérubin, Handel’s Frondi tenere e belle from Xerxes and Rossini’s Tanti affetti in tal momento! from la Donna del Largo, all superbly sung.

The second half of this final Prom of the season featured the overture to Bernstein’s Candide in a lively performance which brought out much of the symphonic nature of this overture followed by Make our Garden Grow, also from Candide with the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra giving a lovely performance, showing what a melodic gift Bernstein had.

The BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra followed this with a fine performance of Verdi’s Va, pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco.

Joyce DiDonato again joined the orchestra for some lighter fare in the form of Harold Arlen’s Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz.

Nigel Kennedy then reappeared, to have great fun in a spectacular version of Monti’s well-known Csardas, including a lively duet with the leader of the orchestra, Stephen Bryant. Marin Alsop and the orchestra kept up with Kennedy’s improvisations magnificently.

Joyce DiDonato returned to sing an attractive arrangement by Chris Hazell of The Londonderry Air and Richard Rodgers’ You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel with ample support from the Prommers.

The night was brought towards a nautical theme in a finely judged performance of Bantock’s The Sea Reivers, his 1920 piece based on a Hebridean Sea-Reivers song.

Another composer, who had a neat melodic gift, was George Lloyd whose HMS Trinidad March received the first performance of the version for orchestra. This was a terrific ship’s march written for the ill-fated HMS Trinidad, making an ideal piece for the last night of the Proms, leading as it did to Arne’s Rule Britannia with Joyce DiDonato, resplendent in a pastel Union Jack gown.

Marin Alsop proved to be a natural conductor for the Last Night of the Proms and fully at home in traditional last night fare of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, Parry’s Jerusalem and Britten’s effective arrangement of the National Anthem as well as giving a fine speech which was received with great enthusiasm by the Prommers.

This was a memorable Last Night to conclude one of the finest seasons for a long time as well as breaking records with fifty seven sold out performances.

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