Last night’s Toronto Summer Music Festival concert, continuing the the me of “London Calling” was titled (Almost) the Last Night of the Proms and was a sort of recreation of that weird fusion of music and retro imperialism that hits the Albert Hall once per year. I went because I was curious. Toronto is no longer terribly British and it’s also notoriously buttoned down. Koerner Hall is a 1200 seat concert hall with no promenade space. The concert wasn’t the celebratory conclusion of eight weeks of promenading. Could it remotely match the atmosphere of the Last Night and, if not, would there be musical merit enough to make it worthwhile? The answer, sadly, is not really though some people did try.
Things started out conventionally enough with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 with some tepid singing along to Land of Hope and Glory. Not a good sign. Then came Elgar’s Enigma Variations, so called I’ve always assumed because it’s an enigma why anyone bothers. And so to the interval and a stiff drink in the hope that the energy level would rise for the second half.
I’m not sure the energy level did all that much but there was some pretty decent conventional music making. Jonathan Crow was a fine soloist in Vaughan-William’s Lark Ascending and Ravel’s Tzigane and the National Academy Orchestra showed us what it could do. Then on came Allyson McHardy. Now we had been given “song sheets” in our programmes, including Parry’s Jerusalem but maybe only so those who didn’t know the words (!!) could follow the text of Allyson’s nicely expressed version. Then came maybe the musical highlight of the night; Allyson singing a really fine and dramatic version of Cruda Sorte from L’Italiana in Algeri, which was followed by a very decent I Could Have Danced All Night.
So now we were firmly into what should have been raving bonkers territory. Wood’s Hornpipe and the Flanders and Swan version of Mozart’s Horn Concerto N0.3 with a bonus of Ben Heppner singing The Hippopotamus Song. All, all too respectfully received. The audience got to help out Allyson with Rule Britannia but from where I was placed I reckon only half the audience chose to do so and those rather decorously. Then came a curious sing-along version of the finale of Beethoven’s 9th using words of absolutely anodyne political correctness, perhaps as an apology for the more in your face foreigners stuff earlier. Oh and God Save the Queen. Not sure why.
Well there was bound to be an encore and the crowd was baying (or at least as close to baying as the evening got) for Jerusalem but it was only after a reprise of Rule Britannia and the Wood Hornpipe that conductor Boris Brott got the message and by then the hall, never full, was half empty.
It had its moments and there were flags but Last Night of the Proms it wasn’t. More like a Sunday afternoon at the old people’s home actually.