BBC Proms reviews

BBC Proms: ‘The Golden Age of Broadway’ – BBC Concert Orchestra / Balcombe @ Royal Albert Hall, London

31 July 2021

The BBC Proms serve up Broadway hits at the Albert Hall.

BBC Proms

Nadim Naaman (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

Since 2009 John Wilson and his orchestra have delighted Proms audiences with their presentations of music from stage and screen. Wilson has now moved on to other projects (he will be conducting Sinfonia of London in a more classical Prom on 4 September), so the Broadway Prom slot this year was filled, on Saturday evening, by the BBC Concert Orchestra (under Richard Balcombe), and five singers from the world of musical theatre.

On balance, it was an enjoyable evening of music by the big names of the era – Rogers, Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Loewe, Loesser, Kern and Martin. The BBC Concert Orchestra were on top form (and this music is core repertoire for them) but Wilson’s energy and pizzazz as a conductor were missed, along with his arrangements of the material, which, while brilliant, always remain true to the originals. Balcombe kept the tempi going according to plan, but one felt that, apart from this, the orchestra could probably have done it all without him. Their four instrumental items were delivered with attention to mood and a slick understanding of idiom: the whooshing breadth of the overture to South Pacific; the changing drama of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue; the warm charm of the overture to Gigi; the bluesy humour of Walking the Dog.

The matching of singers with material was generally good, especially for the two women. Louise Dearman’s voice has a rich solidity to it that delivered  just the right amount of Ethel Merman stridency in numbers such as There’s No Business Like Show Business and The Trolley Song, but she also found a wistfulness with a well-judged catch in the voice for her account of My Funny Valentine. Katie Hall’s fresher voice delivered tenderness for Mister Snow and All the Things You Are, but it also served up a helping of sparkly mischief for Porter’s You’re the Top, and a portion of the ornery for Loewe’s Show Me. Nadim Naaman gave us a solid accounts of Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, Joey, Joey, Joey and On the Street Where You Live, and his duet work with Katie Hall in You’re the Top saw some nicely judged interaction.

“…it was an enjoyable evening of music by the big names of the era…”

BBC Proms

Katie Hall (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

It was with the two lower male voices, though that some of the evening’s lustre became dulled. There is sometimes a tendency to assume that musical-theatre style is uniform, and that what works for Cole Porter or Claude-Michel Schönberg works for Richard Rogers or Irving Berlin, and this was demonstrated on Saturday. While Jamie Parker’s crooner voice was perfect for You’re Sensational (the Sinatra number from High Society) and the That’s Alright With Me / I Got Rhythm medley, and his near-spoken tirade in I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face was augmented by his acting qualities, he sang Some Enchanted Evening in an almost off the cuff Vegas style, which took all the lyric power out of it; Rogers was writing an aria here, and we need to feel the ghost of Rossano Brazzi in the sustained chest-voice lines. This is even more true of Emile’s other elegiac song from South Pacific: This Nearly Was Mine, given by Clarke Peters. Peters’ voice certainly has a more bass-heavy presence to it, but his breathy, disjointed delivery sucked the emotion from the number. While Peters seemed a shoo-in for the characterful Sky Masterson number Luck be a Lady, there were some infelicities of tuning.

The evening ended on a couple of good notes, however, and the ensemble treatments of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Oklahoma! sent the audience away with light feet.

Full details of this year’s Prom season can be found here.

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