Last Night of the Proms review – Alsop controls the crowd with ease

Royal Albert Hall, London
Marin Alsop conducted the BBCSO through a glamorous evening of classical barnstormers, singalongs, politics and knicker-throwing adulation

Two summers ago, Marin Alsop at the Last Night of the Proms was big news: a female conductor! Giving the Last Night speech! Passing over the unfortunate truth that Alsop is likely to be the only woman conducting the event for the next few years, her return felt like a homecoming: few conductors would be so much at ease in a programme ranging from Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel to Arvo Pärt to The Sound of Music, at an event that feels like an anachronism and yet comes with the opportunity to make a political point.

Alsop’s speech included a call for redoubled efforts to level the conducting playing field for men and women, and some insistent but not over-idealistic words on music’s potential to improve the world – all this to a hall bedecked with the usual flags plus, on one box, a banner saying Refugees Welcome.

German flags were waved with extra pride – and not only because of tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s singing in arias by Puccini and Lehár, though that would have justified it. He brought his glowing Recondita Armonia to a gloriously controlled close, sang a barnstorming Nessun Dorma – and was rewarded from the arena with at least two pairs of knickers and one of boxer shorts, all of which might be a Proms first.

Singalong … Soprano Danielle de Niese joins Marin Alsop, the BBCSO, the BBC Singers and the BBCSC to perform  The Sound of Music at the Last Night of the Proms 2015.
Favourite things … Soprano Danielle de Niese joins Marin Alsop to perform The Sound of Music. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou/BBC

Other highlights were mostly courtesy of pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, a crisp and buoyant soloist in Shostakovich’s Concerto No 2 and in James P Johnson’s Victory Stride – which also featured stylish solos from within the BBC Symphony Orchestra – and the salon pianist of dreams in Percy Grainger’s solo arrangement of Gershwin’s Love Walked In.

Eleanor Alberga’s new, three-minute opener Arise, Athena! fitted the occasion – easy on the ear yet rhythmically forceful, and involving orchestra and organ plus the massed ranks of the BBC Singers and Symphony Chorus. Arvo Pärt’s 80th birthday was marked with his Credo, an earlier, less reflective work than we usually associate with him, in which cacophonous forces of evil are dispelled by the calm and goodness of Bach’s C major Prelude, played by BBCSO pianist Elizabeth Burley.

Upping the already high opera-star glamour count, soprano Danielle de Niese flirted with the gallery in Delibes’s Les Filles de Cadix and, before all the usual flagwaving shenanigans, led the hall in a mass singalong medley from The Sound of Music. To her credit, Alsop kept things moving even in Edelweiss, which the audience would otherwise have milked more than Christopher Plummer would have ever dreamed of. Sometimes, conducting is not about musical inspiration so much as crowd control.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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