Following in the grand tradition of Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, this was a quite British concert with several old favourites included and also featuring some Scandinavian music. Audience members attended the concert fully prepared to enjoy themselves and that they certainly did.
The concert, held at the Concourse, Chatswood where the WSO is the resident orchestra, featured huge cast of performers with the combined forces and talents of the Willoughby Symphony and the Willoughby Choir. The featured soloist this year was astonishing Benett Tsai on cello. Dr Nicholas Milton conducted with enormous panache and flair, and introduced the various works and soloists.
It opened with the stirring yet stately Pomp and Circumstance Military March No.4 by Elgar, a Proms staple and an audience favourite. This was followed by the dramatic nationalistic tone poem Finlandia Op.26 by Sibelius with ominous horns and drums, scurrying strings and rumbling cellos and double bass. The Choir was strong and powerful in the penultimate Finland Awakes and was underscored by tremulous strings.
Then came the astonishing soloist Benett Tsai in Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor Op 85. At times Tsai’s playing, with warm tone and smooth phrasing, was blisteringly fast, at other times he was feather light and elegantly restrained yet passionate. Yet other sections were sharp and spiky.
Tsai is amazing even more so given that he is just 13 ! The performance was dark and brooding yet richly elegant . After the rather dreary and sombre start to of the first movement, the clarinets introduce a lyric second theme, which is developed in the style of a Siciliana.
The second movement begins with a pizzicato version of the cello’s opening recitative; the bulk of this movement is a scherzo-like moto perpetuo. A hypnotic, meditative adagio follows , reducing the orchestra to chamber size, and the cello sings through all but a single measure.
Raise Your Voices by Rolf Lovland followed, the choir in thrilling form and it was quite compelling with its stirring martial like rhythms and drums and trumpets in the Orchestra.
Eric Coates’ The Dam Busters March from the movie took us to interval in a brisk, dynamic, at times jaunty performance – you could hear the planes buzzing.
The second half of the concert opened with a bright, rippling, bubbling, cascading version of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, the choir strong and thrilling. Interestingly – for once the audience did not stand.( Dr Milton mentioned the tradition of standing afterwards).
A major part of the second half was David Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody Op.68, featuring Benett Tsai on cello. it opened with crashing strings and full orchestra and included sharp spiky fiery Gypsy melodies. Tsai on the cello was dazzling and assured in his charismatic heartfelt playing which was full of fluid intensity.
A warm and lyrical, quite moving version of Percy Grainger’s Mo Nighean dubh(My Dark Haired Maiden) followed – the Choir sang acapella and was conducted by Peter Ellis . Pacific Opera then burst onto the stage in marvellous period costumes with an exquisitely sung finale from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro that soared and enchanted.
Officially the last item on the program was Land of Hope and Glory – quite stirring and there was lots of flag waving, cheering, streamer throwing and more. Much fun.
After tumultuous applause the first encore was the Choir and Orchestra in a stirring version of Jerusalem .Then came a lyrical , very moving version of Londonderry Air ( aka Danny Boy) for lush strings. The final, third encore was the Pacific Opera leading us in Rule Brittania .The cast sang it first with repeats , then Dr Milton encouraged us all to stand and sing along …
Tumultuous applause and many streamers later we emerged and those of us lucky enough to be invited attended the launch of the exciting 2018 season launch with the name Soaring Spirit.
Next year’s highlights include the announcement that Nigel Westlake is to be the Composer in Residence. As part of the launch we also heard two lovely two guitar pieces performed by Andrew Blanch, who will be a featured soloist in 2018.
Running time just over 2 hours including interval.
Willoughby Symphony Orchestra’s LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS played the Concourse, Chatswood on the 19th and 20th August, 2017.