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The Last Night of the Proms 2003
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Aristophanic Suite: The Wasps - Overture (1909) [9'03"]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Introduction et Rondo capriccioso, Op.28 (1863) for violin and orchestra [9'54"]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Pavane, Op.50 (1887) - Choral version [6'04"]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Thaïs: Méditation, for violin and orchestra [5'42"]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)

Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances, for ladies voices, chorus and orchestra [11'27"]
George GRIGORIOU (1927-1999)

Valurile Dundrii (1974) - Muzica, for Soprano and orchestra [2'56"]
Alfredo CATALANI (1854-1893)

La Wally (1892) - Ebben? andrò lontana for soprano and orchestra [3'33"]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 in D Major [6'42"]
Sir Henry WOOD (1869-1944) and Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) for chorus and orchestra (arr. John Wilson & Stephen Jackson) Fantasia on British Sea Songs [18'54"]
Sir Charles Hubert PARRY (1848-1918), orch. Sir Edward ELGAR for chorus, organ and orchestra Jerusalem [2'43"]
Angela Gheorghiu (soprano)
Leila Josefowicz (violin)
BBC Singers; BBC Symphony Chorus (Chorus master: Stephen jackson)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
Recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms on 13 September 2003
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61552-2 [77'02"]


This is one of a new series by Warner Classics of last year's BBC Prom concerts, this one obviously being devoted to the programme of the last night. How one views this type of programme depends very much on individual preference. Here, an attempt has been made to resurrect the "old-style" Prom concerts with shorter items from different soloists, rather than a longer concerto. Thus the introduction of the Saint-Saëns and Fauré items for violin, and the even shorter operatic arias. The atmosphere of the last night, as I am sure most are aware, is noisy, hot and excitable. This comes over in the items here recorded, particularly the latter half of the programme, and has its effect on the orchestral playing, which at times is untidy. The Wasps buzz excitedly, but at times a bit too much so; here at 5'00" the playing is at its most undisciplined, almost as if the orchestra have had too little time at rehearsal. Josefowitz plays nicely in the Saint-Saëns, but the recording has unfortunately placed her too backward for comfort and ease of listening. Fauré's Pavane is given in its choral version, an ad lib arrangement by the composer himself, and then Josefowitz is better balanced in the Méditation from Massenet's Thaïs, and gives a well-played performance. The Polovtsian Dances start well, with the ladies' voices of the BBC Chorus in fine fettle, but this is marred a 3'00" by a far too rasping brass entry, and from 7'30" the music sounds rushed.

Angela Gheorghiu's arias I am sure will appeal to her admirers, but from here onwards for me the concert descends into the jingoism and pfazz which seems to be the trademark of this particular event. Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March is on its way even before applause from the previous aria has ended, and of course is accompanied by numerous cracks-of-whip sound and "instruments" played by the audience. OK, if you are there and go for that type of thing - it is probably great fun, but to a dispassionate listener, one can only imagine the composer's feelings when told to arrange the music to the words of A. C. Benson. Then the Sea Songs; this is no longer the Fantasia on sea shanties and songs as we knew it, but an extended version to take in live audiences at "Proms in the Park" events in Swansea, Glasgow and Belfast. Thus, sections from Sir Henry Wood's other fantasias on Welsh and Scottish melodies are included, together with Grainger's arrangement of the Tune from County Derry to represent Ireland. The whole has been arranged by John Wilson, the choral versions being provided by Stephen Jackson. Alas, I found the whole thing saddening, despite a nice touch of humour in the violin solo that starts off the hornpipe; the original version is much better (and mercifully much shorter). Finally, Jerusalem brings the evening to a well-earned close.

To sum up, this is fine if you want the hype and fireworks; I can happily live without them.

John Portwood

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