MSO: Last Night of the Proms

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Published: 20th July, 2019
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When it comes to bums on seats you can’t beat nostalgia. So the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra would have been delighted with the full house for its Last Night of the Proms concert last Saturday.

Were they all expats longing for the Good Old Days? Maybe not, but it was still a good enough excuse to revel in a rousing rendition of “Land of Hope and Glory” even in these days of Brexit.

Conductor Sir Andrew Davis, who “owned” Last Night of the Proms at the Albert Hall for about a dozen years, reprised his familiar presentation, including the speeches. Without being too cynical this was a concert very much on cruise control, so this is more of a guided tour than a review.

Sir Andrew kicked off with an address to point out that this was a show about, not surprisingly, “Britissshness” – and only a Brit could say it that way. He promptly got on with it, beginning with The Return to Life, a fantasy on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, by, according to Sir Andrew, “the nut-case Berlioz”. This gave the MSO chorus a chance to clear its throat.

This was followed by Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, with violinist Lu Siqing as soloist. This was a strikingly singular performance, showing superb virtuosity and a wonderful grasp of the music. Unfortunately, that was the last we saw of him.

Then came the headline act, Soprano Greta Bradman, with two arias: Rossini’s “Una voce poco fa” from The Barber of Seville, and “Vanne….Lasciami…D’amor sull’ali rosee” from Il Trovatore, by Verdi.

The Rossini requires great vocal dexterity, ranging as it does down to the mezzo range and Miss Bradman was well able to cover it. She was more at home, however, with Verdi – an affecting and sympathetic performance. Her soft notes were perfect for this aria.

We ended the first half with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Neapolitan Song “Funiculi, funicular”, a marketing piece for the construction of a crazy project to build a funicular railway up Mount Vesuvius, presumably when it was not erupting.

The second half was the Full (Last Night of the Proms) Monty. Parry’s Blest pair of Sirens, Horn’s Cherry Ripe, and even a song by Miss Bradman’s grandfather Sir Donald, entitled Every Day is a Rainbow for Me.

Suddenly, something for the colonies: Hurst’s Swagman’s Promenade featuring “Waltzing Matilda” with the chorus back in action and the audience joining in.

Then the heavy stuff: Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 rolling into Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, round the final bend into Arne’s Rule, Britannia! before hitting the main straight with Parry’s Jerusalem.

The audience loved it – all very British. Great fun chaps, and we must do it again next year.

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Cyril Jones reviewed Last Night of the Proms presented by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall on July 13, 2019.