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Saturday, 14 September, 2002, 22:57 GMT 23:57 UK
The Last Night delivers the goods
Proms conductor Leonard Slatkin (photograph by Keith Saunders)
Slatkin balanced a varied programme with the expected patriotic themes

Last year's Last Night was a subdued affair, overshadowed by the events of 11 September.

But it was also a reminder that inside the Last Night party is a very good classical concert, trying to get out.

This year's programme - the climax of more than 70 consecutive nights of music at London's Royal Albert Hall - was so varied that the evening's music resembled a mini-festival of its own.

Marking the UK's Jubilee year, it began with two ceremonial pieces from centenary composer William Walton, followed by Malcolm Sargent's arrangement of Walton's Henry V Suite, with selections from Shakespeare's play read by Samuel West.

The actor raised a laugh when he spoke of "the flat unraised spirits that have dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object".

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (Photograph by Simon Fowler, BMI Classics)
Andsnes: Expressive reading of a warhorse concerto
But Walton's music - composed for Laurence Olivier's film - was superb and the flavour of the readings just right for the night.

This year's new work, commissioned from eight leading composers by the BBC Music Magazine, provided a series of twists on a theme by England's musical giant Henry Purcell.

In truth they made rather heavy weather of it, though Michael Torke's percussive digression was entertaining enough.

But it was an evening for familiar works rather than musical explorations - and they don't come much more familiar than Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor.

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes might not have pulled off every fast passage, but his playing was bright and expressive and the BBC Symphony Orchestra was, as usual, responsive and accurate.

Twist

The second half of the show stayed largely in the comfort zone, with all the usual patriotic themes.

But conductor Leonard Slatkin did have one fresh twist to offer - a set of Broadway show tunes to mark the centenary of songwriter Richard Rogers.

Soprano Audra McDonald acquitted herself well on a selection which climaxed with You'll Never Walk Alone, which had the Prommers swaying rhythmically and, of course, singing along.

For the first time, the Last Night included folksong arrangements from Ireland, Scotland and Wales - perhaps to balance the rather anglocentric sentiments to come.

Soprano Audra McDonald (photograph by Keith Saunders)
McDonald revelled in the cheek of lyrics like Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered
The folksongs, arranged by Proms founder Sir Henry Wood, were Scotland's Charlie Is My Darling and the Welsh All Through The Night, and from Ireland, a Percy Grainger arrangement of the pub crooner's favourite, Danny Boy.

It was a humorous but loving tribute to the British Isles, culminating in Rule Britannia.

Then it was Hubert Parry's setting of William Blake's Jerusalem - guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened reviewer - and, to finish, a restrained Benjamin Britten arrangement of the national anthem.

Slatkin had pulled off a difficult balancing act.

This was a Last Night which had pushed all the expected patriotic buttons - but had nonetheless taken the audience on interesting - and international - musical journey.

See also:

14 Sep 02 | Entertainment
03 Sep 02 | Entertainment
03 Sep 02 | Entertainment
30 Jul 02 | Wales
19 Jul 02 | Entertainment
01 Jul 02 | Entertainment
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