Review: WASO's Last Night at the Proms, Perth Concert Hall

Barbara Booth

Bells and whistles bring tradition to Western Australia.
Review: WASO's Last Night at the Proms, Perth Concert Hall

The Western Australian Symphony Orchestra plays Last Night at the Proms.

There’s something about tradition. It smacks of security and strength. And in the case of the famous British ‘Proms’ its the kind of united passion that helped keep spirits buoyant during the second World War.

The simple concept of drawing people outside their homes to listen to music as they promenaded freely in the open air actually began in 1838. Concerts with a variety of classical music would run over an eight-week summer season, and by the time they concluded in The Royal Albert Hall, a century later, they were a British institution. People still queue for weeks even for a standing room ticket which remains at a cost of five pounds.

As Australia is said to have the highest rate of British ex-pats in the world, it was no surprise to see the amount of red bow ties, crazy hats and flag vests in the foyer of the Perth Concert Hall.

But therein lies a very minor criticism of the hall itself, designed to hold 1,731 people, compared with the Albert Hall which has a 5,500 capacity.

From Walton’s ear-splitting 'Coronation March' to 'Pomp and Circumstance' the program seemed rushed and, at times, sacrificing quality for quantity. Would tradition have been damaged by dropping one of those wonderful works or, perhaps, starting the concert half an hour earlier? Certainly it would be a hard choice. The swelling cadences of Khachaturian’s valse which make your spine tingle, the gentle, synchronised plucking of strings by the cellos and basses that lead you through 'The Hall of the Mountain King!' Who could reject Verdi’s Aida triumphant march, those wonderful kettle drums and blasts from the brass? Then, of course, there was the WASO chorus, faultless in its delivery of Verdi’s 'Nobucco'. What a diverse program and, to boot, renowned Emma Matthews singing Strauss’s 'Voices of Spring'. Unfortunately, I felt this artist was a little overwhelmed, even rushed, at times by the orchestra and appeared to be searching for the microphone hidden somewhere in her magnificent gown which caused a loss of low notes. Similarly, in the second half, with Lehar’s Meine Lippen, she seemed constricted by lack of physical as well as musical space to give the piece the lively expression it demanded.

However, as tradition tells us, laughter is the best medicine and all was forgiven, after an all too short interval, with the sight of conductor, Guy Noble, shuffling across the stage resplendent in blue and yellow as a ‘Thunderbird.’ If this 20th Century musical addition was designed to blend the generation gap, it was a stroke of genius and the audience loved it. Noble played the part to the hilt followed by a provocative strip down to his traditional shirt and black trousers.

Then it was back to business with Bizet’s 'L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2' giving clarinets, flutes and French horns a chance to shine, but no respite for this hard-working orchestra.

Noble led them into Wood’s 'Sea Songs' with perfection from trumpets, piccolo and flute, a deeply sonorous euphonium and a soulful cello which brought tears to many people’s eyes.The atmosphere in the hall was electric as people began to stand and bounce up and down, waving flags. Poppers surreptitiously began to pop, hooters hoot and whistles blow, louder and louder as the music accelerated with the 'Sailor’s Hornpipe'.

Trumpets then upstanding, hearts beating faster!

'Not yet!' shouted Noble to the box seats as people were poised with streamers at the ready, 'And when you do throw them hang onto one end to protect our valued musicians and Emma Matthews' who appeared, on cue, with her navy gown now draped with a huge white and red sash.

Time for 'Sargent’s Rule Britannia'. Like the Marseilles, has there ever been a more stirring, patriotic song written more than 200 years ago?

Followed by 'Jerusalem', the ancient Blake poem set to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916, its stirring words brought the voices of the WASO choir, Matthews and the people together to 'brace the spirit of the nation' and 'accept with cheerfulness all the sacrifices necessary.'

It was time to celebrate and indeed they did as streamers flowed from balconies, feet stamped, hands clapped, banners waved with all the 'Pomp and Circumstance' they could muster for their 'Land of Hope and Glory'.

Tinsel descended from the ceiling as people of all nationalities were moved to raise their voices in support of music that stirs the soul. If that’s tradition, let’s have more of it with, maybe next time, microphones to extend the program to people across the road and into the parks surrounding the venue so thousands more can hear. 

Rating: 4 ½ stars ★★★★☆

Last Night at the Proms
West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Guy Noble, conductor
Emma Matthews, soprano
WASO Chorus

27 July, 2018
Perth Concert Hall, Perth

About the author

Barbara Booth has been a Freelance Journalist for 27 years, published nationally in newspapers and magazines including The Age, The Canberra Times, The West Australian, Qantas Club magazine, Home Beautiful, Paspaley magazine, Limelight magazine and 50 Something. She is based in Perth.