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Last Night of the Proms, Barton, BBCSO, Oramo review – woke not broke | reviews, news & interviews

Last Night of the Proms, Barton, BBCSO, Oramo review – woke not broke

Last Night of the Proms, Barton, BBCSO, Oramo review – woke not broke

Traditional revelries, but with a strong focus on diversity and inclusion

Jamie Barton sings Rule Britannia!All images BBC/Chris Christodoulou

The BBC put social and ethnic diversity at the heart of this Last Night programme. The concert opened with a new work, by Daniel Kidane, called Woke, and the first half was dominated by the music of black and female composers.

In the second half, mezzo Jamie Barton waved a rainbow flag during her "Rule, Britannia!" The Proms is clearly in the vanguard for inclusivity among classical music organisations, although the fact that Kidane stood out as one of the only non-white members of the huge audience suggests there is still a long way to go.

Woke is a dynamic concert opener, energised by driving percussion rhythms. The large orchestra is skilfully deployed for diverse colours while always retaining a clarity of texture. The music eventually settles into lush, sonorous harmonies, but it meanders when the initial impetus is lost: that percussive opening proves its greatest strength.

The Second Suite from Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat could easily have been cut. It is not lacking for performances, and was rendered superfluous by the Carmen "Habanera" later on. It was given an elegant reading, though, by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo, the players demonstrating all the versatility and grace under pressure required of such an evening. Laura Mvula’s Sing to the Moon was arranged here for unaccompanied chorus, and performed by the BBC Singers. They, too, demonstrated remarkable versatility, though the soul number sat uneasily as a part-song.Sakari Oramo

Elizabeth Maconchy’s Proud Thames is an evocative tone poem that has been waiting almost 70 years for a Proms performance. It is a beautiful evocation of the river – shades of Smetana, if on a smaller scale. But it was upstaged by Elgar, whose Sospiri followed, a work similar in spirit but far superior. It was given another stylish performance by the BBC Symphony, although a low register on the organ pedal board occasionally threatened to overwhelm the ensemble.

Jamie Barton ended the first half with a whistle-stop tour of famous mezzo arias, from Carmen, Samson and Delilah and Don Carlos. She put more effort into stylisation than projection, and in the Carmen Habanera the eager orchestra sometimes masked her (the balance was probably better on the TV). In Delilah’s aria, “Ma Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”, Barton’s expression was more disciplined, her slides less emphatic. “O don fatale” from Verdi’s Don Carlos worked best, Barton’s tone here taking on a darker hue, and her emphatic articulation structuring the Italian text. Sakari Oramo conducts the Last Night of the PromsThe second half was dominated by dead white males, of course, but there were still some surprises. The Overture to Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld turns out to have an elegant, light introduction, before the Can-Can kicks in, all delivered with elegance and grace by the BBC Symphony. Percy Grainger’s Marching Song of Democracy seems custom made for the Last Night of the Proms, but the music defies description. It is scored for large orchestra and chorus, and is dominated by a huge percussion section. It lands running, with the chorus singing nonsense syllables, while the orchestra already heads in a different direction. The music is celebratory and triumphal, but wildly anarchic - classic Percy Grainger.

Barton sang two show numbers for her second appearance, "Over the Rainbow" and "I Got Rhythm". Subtle amplification allowed her more flexibility of tone, the direct simplicity of the first song contrasting the sass and rhythmic bite of the second. Then on to the usual festivities. The Fantasia on British Sea-Songs was supplemented with choral arrangements of songs from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, the most successful a surprisingly tasteful "Danny Boy" arranged by Bob Chilcott. Oramo’s speech was a brief salute to the virtues of music education and of live performances. The crowd went wild for Land of Hope and Glory but stood in dignified silence for Britten’s exquisite choral setting of the national anthem. Then Auld Lang Syne, and the last train home.


The Percy Grainger lands running, the chorus singing nonsense syllables, the orchestra already heading in a different direction


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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