Thursday, 7 October 2010

Chandos's Press Officer goes to the last night of the proms

I went to the Last Night of the Proms this September – for the first time for years. It is a concert like no other and I had forgotten just what an impact a concert can make. It makes one understand how in 1830, Auber’s La Muette de Portici incited a riot – the signal for the Belgian Revolution which led to Belgian independence from the Dutch. Such is the power of music. Not that Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory could incite anything other than positive emotions. In fact, it was rather touching to see so many different flags waving amongst the sea of Union Jacks. One undoubted gulp-making moment was Britten’s version of God Save the Queen which the massed choir begins with a spine-tingling hushed intensity – a supreme arrangement, though it threw the audience into utter panic when it became clear that no one seemed to know the words to the second verse of the British National Anthem (it was printed, mercifully, in the programme).

Nor, it seemed, did people know the words to Auld Lang Syne, though by that stage of the evening, it hardly mattered. We had all sung through You’ll never walk alone which the conductor, Jiří Bělohlávek (whose new Chandos recording of Suk’s Symphony No. 1 and Ripening, CHSA 5081, is ‘CD of the Month’ in the November issue of BBC Music), hoped, with the aid of live relays around the country, would enter the Guinness Book of Records as representing the largest massed choir performance ever. Alarmingly (for it worked rather well), it was preceded by the ‘Bridal Chorus’ from Lohengrin. One can only imagine what Wagner would have thought being programmed next to Rodgers and Hammerstein!

Wonderful, too, hearing Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio italien and Rococco Variations, the latter played this time on a viola by Maxim Rysanov, along with Chabrier’s fizzing Joyeuse marche (why don’t we hear these works more often?); and René Fleming was superb in the Strauss songs and the arias from Dalibor and Rusalka. Even if Henry Wood’s masterful arrangement of Fantasia on British Sea Songs was omitted this year, there was a very enjoyable new version of a traditional hornpipe, arranged by Nic Raine – even the world premiere opening work, Jonathan Dove’s A Song of Joys, was hugely entertaining and gives us hope for modern music.

With winter looming all too near we enter a bracing autumnal season, with plenty of warming CD releases. Included are recordings of Karen Geoghegan and Michael Collins showing their virtuosity in repertoire, respectively, for the bassoon and clarinet; Edward Gardner’s first orchestral CD for Chandos (works by Lutosławski); more colourful, folksong-inspired music by Johan Halvorsen; and Louis Lortie completes his epic series of Beethoven’s piano sonatas (available in a handsome 9-disc bargain box). Amongst a myriad of new downloads available this month, there is a stunning new recording of Mozart’s great Mass in C minor, conducted by Harry Christophers on Coro; a beautiful CD called Dialogues of Sorrow on Signum, performed by Gallicantus, some delightful chamber music played by the Poulenc Trio on Marquis, an impressive reading of Parsifal on the Mariinsky label, conducted by Valery Gergiev, and a sublime Grieg recital played by Katya Apekisheva on Quartz, amongst many others.

Paul Westcott, Press Officer, Chandos Records