THE WAR HORSE PROM
BBC Concert Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall
The real challenge for this eagerly awaited Proms special was to draw together the many elements, linked by nothing more than a desire to commemorate the Great War a century ago.
We were reminded of the famous women of WWI, of the animals other than horses who helped the war effort, of the combatants from the colonies … Gareth Malone and his Military Wives choir were involved too, together with the youth choir Cambiata North West. There was a Turkish contribution, and a selection of Rilke settings sung, in German, by baritone Duncan Rock.
Miraculously, under the baton of David Charles Abell, the whole thing worked almost seamlessly – no introductions, no applause – and the ninety minutes flew by.
At the heart of the sequence, of course, was the War Horse Suite, arranged by Adrian Sutton from his own music for the National Theatre's original stage show. The story was wordlessly told – though the author was a real presence on stage – with beautifully choreographed movement and the two Handspring puppets, now famous in their own right. Clever use of a period handheld camera brought the action close up, projected onto tattered banners high above the stage. This began right at the beginning, where Frank Bridge's Summer provided a soundtrack to the end of Edwardian innocence, as the Military Wives filed down with army boots for the young men we'd just seen carefree on the beach.
The choir gave us Holst and Elgar Part Songs – Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead and The Snow – and the young lads of Cambiata North West sang a new work specially commissioned from Sutton – Some See Us. A strong concept – a fierce response from “humanity's guardian angels”, “the sons and daughters we may never have”. Neither the words [Jonathan James] nor the music were especially memorable, but the same could be said of the New War Hymn, written in 1914 by the founder of the Proms, Sir Henry Wood.
Only Remembered – the old hymn used as a poignant theme in War Horse – framed the sequence, sung by Tim van Eyken. And there was an upbeat encore, as we sang along with the huge cast to Tipperary.
This Prom was one of several events to mark the centenary, including a lovely sequence from Michael Morpurgo [from his anthology Only Remembered], and a brief Lights Out Ceremony after the John Tavener Late Night Prom on August 4.