Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Well done Mayor for a Prom night to rival the Albert Hall

FULL marks must go to mayor Stefan Gawrysiak and town clerk Mike Kennedy for launching Henley’s first ever Last Night

FULL marks must go to mayor Stefan Gawrysiak and town clerk Mike Kennedy for launching Henley’s first ever Last Night Of The Proms.

Bursting with local promenaders, St Mary’s Church was a patriotic sea of Union flags, wacky outfits and bunting last Saturday as the Henley Symphony Orchestra and its musical director, Ian Brown, led the celebrations.

Introducing the programme, Ian Brown was not that far off the mark when he quipped tongue-in-cheek that he hoped the audience “would not be too disappointed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra after hearing the Henley Symphony Orchestra”.

There is indeed no substitute for the immediacy and intimacy of large-scale orchestral power at close quarters, and the HSO exploited the opportunity to the full, taking the audience completely with them.

Sibelius’ Finlandia, Coates’ London Again Suite, Walton’s Crown Imperial and Handel’s Water Music could easily have been trotted out as mass-market fodder in Classic FM style.

But HSO’s repertoire had been intensively and thoughtfully prepared and they gave us the unexpected. Their passion was infectious and the full orchestral sound carried well in the warm bloom of St Mary’s near-perfect acoustic.

Gershwin’s Strike Up The Band overture presented a bustling canvas of American city life, while the inspired choice of Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No 1 with its sumptuous gypsy-like dances, driven demonically by Brown, caught everyone by surprise.

The woodwind section was beautifully balanced in its intro, and the principal flute later stretched to the limit in a brilliant mid-point cadenza.

Yet it was the meaty, virtuoso violin part that got most attention — wonderful to listen to and a remarkable feat of dexterity performed by the first violins under the leadership of David Burton.

The excellent vocal acts of Julie Huntington, Naomi Vallance, Philip Butler and the No Direction Yukele Band added creditable local colour to the event, but they would have been better served by a pre-interval spot, rather than having to compete with the live satellite link from the Albert Hall, including Nigel Kennedy (as maverick and brilliant as ever), soprano Joyce DiDonato (as classy as they come), and of course the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers.

An inspired speech by conductor Marin Alsop rounded off an exceptional evening, which was as memorable on the banks of the Thames in Henley as it would have been in the Albert Hall itself.

Meanwhile, a new, annual fixture looks to have secured itself a permanent slot in Henley’s local calendar.

Last Night Of The Proms

St Mary’s Church

Saturday, September 7

Trevor Howell

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