« Previous | Main | Next »

Proms: Purcell First at the Last

Post categories:

Rick Jones Rick Jones | 16:06 UK Time, Monday, 21 September 2009

sarah_connolly_dido.jpgPurcell came out of the Last Night of the Proms smelling of the headiest roses. Sarah Connolly sang Dido's Lament with emotion, pity and reverence, restrained on the 'Remember Me's, resisting the temptation to belt them out, conscious that the composer's single most valuable jewel, the culmination of all his skills in one perfect aria, had been reserved for the climax of the nation's greatest musical event. In fact I was in Germany attending the Beethoven Festival in Bonn but saw it there on terrestrial TV with an hour's time difference. It has a large audience who stay up till midnight to sing Auld Lang Syne zu Hause. How is it possible to generate such jollity amid genuine passion at a classical music event? they ask enviously.

Henry Wood's arrangements for full orchestra of selected dance movements from the masques were graceful, respectful and mercifully free of the camp percussion of his Bach treatments. The minuet moved with an infectious weighty swing. I wish we'd heard them before, but then we might have overdone it. These inflated, sonorous vessels are probably best reserved for special occasions.

The build-up to all this was counter-tenor Iestyn Davies singing with warmth and the smoothest tone Music for a While and the Evening Hymn with the Academy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr at Monday's Last Lunchtime of the Proms in Cadogan Hall. He carved shapely phrases with unmistakable diction and all he needs now is a little of the roughness of experience to rival the still incomparable James Bowman in Purcell.

I noted that conductor David Robertson mentioned the promenaders' nightly collection 'for musical charities' in his Last Night speech. I don't remember any previous speaker doing this. Indeed, it was the only thing Robertson did say about them, apart from thanks of course, which means that in some quarters their money-raising will be all that they do become known for and that, I feel, would be a pity. The bucketeers are relatively new on the scene and I would hate to think an ancient and much-loved tradition had been usurped.

.......But it seems most people don't mind. Arenaprommer2 asks whether I would like to suggest a different wording for their announcement but why should I do that? All I'm suggesting is that the case is stated differently each time. Can't be that difficult. Perhaps employ a little wit of the sort promenaders used to be famous for. Why not sing the announcement?

Repetition is what machines do - and that is the other deplorable aspect of the Proms: the mobile phone announcement. It is dehumanising to respond to an automated command. If it must be made, bring someone on to make it. And if they haven't the imagination to address the subject differently each time, they're not a very good compere. Or not make it at all. Neither man nor machine says anything at the Beethoven Festival and still no phones go off.

Rick Jones is a singer, writer and teacher. He is Radio 3's Purcell blogger during Composers of the Year 2009




  • Comment number 1.

    You obviously had a good time in Bonn, Rick.


    The Germans have a particular fascination with the Last Night, it might have something to do with twentieth century history, but their attitude to classical music is perhaps a little more serious, too.

    I agree with your comments about the charity collection and mobile phone announcements in the Royal Albert Hall. It is not beyond promenaders' wit, in my opinion, to come up with something a little more entertaining. The repetitious mobile phone announcement is equally 'deplorable'.

    Nevertheless, Henry Purcell came out of the Proms pretty well, and your criticisms are well judged. Sarah Connolly was particularly good on the Last Night. All the best,



  • Comment number 2.

    "I noted that conductor David Robertson mentioned the promenaders' nightly collection 'for musical charities' in his Last Night speech. I don't remember any previous speaker doing this."
    Your memory serves wrong (again). The PMC collection total has been mentioned in the conductor's speech at least since the Slatkin era. Last year Sir Roger Norrington even "shouted" at the Prommers to enquire what the total was.
    A Prommers' charity collection has been going since the early 1970s, so is this the "ancient and much-loved tradition" you refer to?
    In any case the charity shout does change (almost) every time as the amount increases. For the record, the 2009 collection raised over £80,000. Thanks to all who contributed (not Mr Jones obviously), the BBC and the RAH for their support.


More from this blog...


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.