I don’t take occasions like this for granted. After many years of going to Promenade concerts I was finally on the other side of the stage in the choir stalls as an ‘extra’ with the BBC National Chorus of Wales.
The backstage areas at the RAH are well equipped, with a comfortable common room/bar for the performers, and the staff I encountered were cheerful and helpful. So it didn’t matter too much that the awful weather confined me to the hall between rehearsal and concert. When I was actually in the hall I had a pleasant surprise. I had thought that having the organ in the middle of the stalls would cause the choir to fragment, but I could hear my alto and bass colleagues on the other side of it quite clearly.
As often, I had a good view of the extensive percussion section, which had some unusual instruments including a set of crotales (I had to look the name up), several cowbells and something which looked like a clothespeg (actually it may really have been one, used for holding music to a stand). They were mostly used for Brian Elias’ cello concerto. I’m afraid I can’t give much of an account of this as the soloist Leonard Elschenbroich was facing away from me and not very audible. It wasn’t the flashy-show off kind of concerto.
Somewhere in that percussion section was a whip which was used in the Britten, but I was too busy to notice exactly where. Hearing Ballad of Heroes with the orchestra demonstrated how much of the central part could have been written by Shostakovich, right down to the xylophone entry at the reprise. As often with Britten, I felt the undemonstrative music, when the chorus entered in Part III, was the most effective.
Reading the reviews you’d feel that Elgar’s arrangement of Purcell’s Jehova quam multi sunt hostes mei was a bit unloved. And yet it’s very hard completely to mess up a baroque piece with an inappropriate arrangement, especially when it’s made by a great composer. While Elgar’s setting of ‘Respondet mihi’ didn’t work for me, and ending that section quietly missed a chance for a contrast with the unaccompanied one which follows, I rather liked what he did with the bass solo.
I last heard the Enigma Variations a year ago, conducted by our chorusmaster for this performance. I enjoyed Ryan Wigglesworth’s performance, which took time to savour some of the slower movements without wallowing too much.
As you’d expect from a Prom, there are lots of reviews, though it almost seems as if some of the reviewers had been at different performances from one another. But some sites which reviewed every other Prom didn’t review ours. I can only think the reviewers were deterred by the rain.
Singing at a Promenade concert was probably top of my bucket list of things to do relating to music. I’m not sure what has replaced it; possibly singing a Choral Evensong broadcast (or the broadcast in that slot). Although I’ve sung with at least three choirs that have done one of those broadcasts, there isn’t at the moment an obvious way I’ll get to do this.