REVIEW: Promenade Concert Orchestra – Music fit for a queen

The Morecambe Light Music Orchestra performed a patriotic concert at The Platform to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Review by SARAH GLOSSOP.

Eager spectators were almost blown through the platform doors by an invigorating sea breeze, as they arrived for a dose of patriotism concocted by Howard Rogerson and his Promenade Concert Orchestra on Sunday.

There aren’t many concert openings that capture audiences’ attention better than William Walton’s Orb & Sceptre, with its showy, intricate rhythms and moving main theme. From the crisp fanfares of the augmented horn section to the warm, full sound of the strings, it was clear this concert was going to be one to remember.

It’s all too easy, with a patriotic program like this, to intimidate the public with too much flamboyant forte, but that certainly wasn’t the case here.

A well-chosen and well-balanced program is one of the hallmarks of a PCO concert and it was a nice contrast to have a selection of dances from Edward German’s comic opera Merrie England after the exuberance of the opening piece.

These charming and delicate dances had been compiled especially for this concert, with great success, by conductor Howard Rogerson who managed to include all the dances in the compilation.

There follows a sequence of three gems of British light music, Westminster Waltz (Robert Farnon), Elizabethan Serenade (Ronald Binge) and Coronation Scot (Vivian Ellis) featuring some of the genre’s finest descriptive compositions. Poignantly, the first and last of these three events were respectively dedicated to the memory of Lancaster City Councilor Janice Hanson and longtime PCO supporter and train enthusiast David Alder, honoring two local personalities who miss a lot.

The first half ended in spectacular fashion with Tribute to the Queen by Malcolm Arnold, a rather breathtaking piece written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Its six contrasting movements – Earth, Water, Fire and Air, complete with a Prelude and Finale – offered the audience a rollercoaster ride, with exhilarating syncopated passages punctuated by intricate woodwind solos and moments of sweet harmony.

I haven’t been a big fan of Arnold’s music in the past but it’s a track I’ll definitely listen to again. It’s obviously an extremely difficult piece, but the PCO musicians have made it look and sound easy, negotiating the delicate rhythms and unexpected chords with discipline and panache.

Percy Fletcher’s exuberant march Spirit of Apparat marked the start of the second half, followed by another change of tempo with Five Courtly Dances from Benjamin Britten’s opera Gloriana, brilliantly arranged by David Stone.

As with the Arnold, the five movements had very different styles. Some had swirling tunes and devilish syncopation while others demanded precise, measured playing from the orchestra. All were treated with the same aplomb.

The final piece of the afternoon was the crowning jewel of this jubilee crown – Eric Coates’ Three Elisabeth Suite, a symphonic delight that belies the myth that light music is not ‘real’ music. In my opinion, this suite easily lives up to, if not better than, any standard classical orchestral piece, its three movements brimming with beautiful, soaring tunes and clever counter-melodies.

The exuberant joy of Halcyon Days, depicting Elizabeth I, is countered by the sweetness of Springtime in Angus, depicting Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It was this second movement that provided one of the most defining moments of the concert – the hauntingly beautiful main theme played on the oboe, with a horn counter-singer floating above.

The breathless silence around the room was palpable and great credit goes to Nigel Atkinson (oboe) and Chris Halliwell (horn) for creating this magical moment. The final movement, Young People of Britain, depicting Queen Elizabeth II in her youth, ended this sparkling concert with Howard and his orchestra having presented light music at its best and most varied.

An inspired initiative whereby local school children were encouraged to enter a competition to design the poster for this concert meant the young winners were in attendance and it is to be hoped they enjoyed the music enough to become music supporters slight in the future.

In the meantime, the crowded audience at the Platform for this lively program was very encouraging to see.

Long may Howard and his orchestra continue!

About Roy B. Westling

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