The Last Night of the Proms review – Oramo is the perfect maitre d'

Royal Albert Hall, London
Sakari Oramo realised that this evening works best if played relatively straight, while soloists including Janine Jansen and Roderick Williams shone

This was Sakari Oramo’s first last night, and in some respects it was remarkable. Given that the traditional Britannic imagery had assumed symbolic resonances for the Scottish referendum no vote, the atmosphere was tense and anticipatory. L-plates were hung on the podium. Some wondered how Oramo would cope.

He proved, in fact, to be at once the consummate showman, and the perfect maitre d’. When he removed his tailcoat to reveal a union-flag waistcoat with the Finnish flag at the back, there were shouts of “we love you” from the gallery. In his speech, he quietly and purposefully demanded greater prioritisation of classical music in schools. Most important, perhaps, was his awareness that the last night works best when played relatively straight.

Opening with Gavin Higgins’s neat little fanfare-cum-scherzo, Velocity, the first half had its share of ambivalent, even sombre moments. Malcolm Arnold’s Peterloo Overture, commemorating the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Manchester in 1819, was a reminder that Britain hasn’t always been great. The tone turned elegiac with Chausson’s nostalgic Poème - exquisitely played by Janine Jansen - and John Tavener’s sorrowing Song for Athene, gravely sung by the BBC Singers. Then there was Taillefer, Strauss’s dreadful account of the exploits of William the Conqueror’s minstrel at the Battle of Hastings, which demonstrated that the grand imperialist manner, usually dubbed Elgarian, was by no means uniquely British.

Baritone Roderick Williams shone in part two, delivering intense performances of Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho and Ol’ Man River, before turning his attention to Rule, Britannia, where he avoided camp – he wore white tie and tails – and which he treated as the ornate baroque aria it actually is. The sing-along also included selections from Mary Poppins led by Ruthie Henshall. Saltires were prominent among the flags waved throughout the evening.

Last night of the Proms 2014
Ruthie Henshall and Sakari Oramo lead the Mary Poppins singalong. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou/BBC/BBC

Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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