Prom 74: The Last Night

Posted on September 11th, 2011

There were funeral pyres to light, mountains to climb, and, of course, there was Jerusalem to build. All in a Last Night’s work. Another record-breaking season – an astonishing 94% of capacity – thundered to a close with the usual assortment of incongruous “turns”. Ours not to reason why Bartok was rubbing shoulders with Brünnhilde or Liszt with Richard Rodgers – on this of all nights everybody is first among equals, not least, of course, that most vociferous of audiences – us.

The Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, was on hand to give thanks – on behalf of the Musicians Benevolent Fund – for our generous response to Promenaders’ collections over the season and in his characteristically quirky opener Musica benevolens he even involved said Promenaders in his “declaration” that music is indeed the food of love and much else besides. Bare unisons, reassuring consonances, thorny dissonances, all played a part in this slightly bizarre treatise. It was short and kind of sweet in that still rebellious way of Max’s.

Later in the evening another of our greatest sons, Britten, lauded another, Purcell, with his ingenious Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the twist here being Wendy Cope’s rhyming commentary in the mouth of Jenny Agutter’s one-time railway child. I’d have put them both on the eight o’clock to Lands End and let Britten’s ingenuity shine unimpeded.

At least the arena’s obligatory motor horns were silenced by Bartok’s honking urban gridlock in his Miraculous Mandarin Suite. Sultry gyrations from the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s principal clarinet, Andrew Webster, pointed up the X-rating and if the sex was slick the violence was a tad messy with the final chase a whisker away from one almighty pratfall.

And then it was our very own Brünnhilde’s turn to light our fire. Susan Bullock brought her customary core of humanity to the climactic Immolation Scene from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and whilst every musical bone in my body resisted following that with the dubious confection that is Liszt’s First Piano Concerto, the ubiquitous Lang Lang was the very embodiment of the composer-pianist’s extravagant style, teasing, twinkling, thundering to the brink of affectation and beyond.

Bullock, the Valkyrie, returned to lead the communal sing-off but the most important message came from conductor Edward Gardner who said he hoped this huge audience would come out of hiding to enjoy London’s musical riches for the rest of the year. Just so.

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