The Hallé Orchestra at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.
As the title suggests, this was the last concert in the current Hallé season. They have a summer break, and they need it! This concert was a little more relaxed than their usual style, and, in the age-old tradition of The Royal Albert Hall’s Last Night Of The Proms, we were treated to some rousing patriotic music and union flag waving.
However, before all of that started, the first half of the evening’s concert was dedicated to lighter American music. It started with John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare and Theme, written for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, which made a lovely start to the evening’s concert and foreshadowed the imminent opening of the Games in Rio.
Also included in the first half were a couple of pieces that were completely new to me: a delightful American Overture by John James, and Morning At The Ranch from the film The Red Pony, by Aaron Copland.
No American music mix would be complete without Leonard Bernstein, and he was accounted for here with music from On The Town and West Side Story.
To help the Hallé Orchestra in this celebration of popular classics was the celebrated American tenor Noah Stewart. In the first half of the concert he delighted us with Granada by Augustin Lara [the first time I have ever heard it sung in Spanish,, as I know it only in both English and strangely, German], an American folk song, ‘Shall We Gather By The River’ and a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Maria from West Side Story.
After the interval, the orchestra started with music which had been written by Guiseppe Verdi and arranged by Charles Mackerras for a ballet called The Lady And The Fool, and they played the Tarantella. We stayed with Verdi for the next piece and Noah Stewart once again graced the stage to sing La Donna E Mobile from Rigoletto. If I were to say that this wasn’t the best interpretation of this song I have ever heard I wouldn’t be lying, but he then followed this with The Serenade from The Student Prince which simply was quite unbelievably good; so all is forgiven!
And so, after travelling from the Americas, through Italy, we finally arrived home and it was time for the flags and the surge of patriotism which infects all Last Night of the Proms concerts.
We heard Malcolm Arnold’s second set of Four English Dances which was followed by Henry Wood’s Fantasia On British Sea Songs; and although the fanfares at the beginning of this piece are rarely played, we heard them here tonight, and then we had a hearty reprise of the final part of the music – the hornpipe.
Coming back on to the stage, draped in a Union Flag and looking more like a winning Olympiad than an operatic tenor, Noah Stewart sang Rule Britannia!, Jerusalem, and Land Of Hope And Glory [the section as it appears in the middle of Elgar’s Pomp And Circumstance March].
With standing, singing, flag waving and stoic patriotic lumps in our throats we applauded the orchestra, the conductor, Mr. Stephen Bell, and Noah Stewart, and the encore (to say farewell until September) was of course another rousing rendition of an English composer who knew how to make us feel proud and nationalistic – Elgar, and his Land Of Hope And Glory.
What a lovely way to finish what has been a truly magnificent season for The Hallé Orchestra. I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed many of this season’s concerts, and there truly isn’t another extant orchestra in the UK who can play ‘pops’ the way the Hallé can under Mr. Stephen Bell.
Reviewer – Doug Lester