UNION Jacks, tiaras and streamers, the odd hint of Australia, and tongue-filled cheeks welcomed a sell-out audience for an irreverent, fun-filled afternoon of entertainment even for a proms concert. It wasn’t quite what our big princely brother hall in London might expect, but it was just as joyous.
Musically, though, “Pomp!” was of mixed success.
Starting off with a nicely strong and confident main theme to “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (used as the theme to the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey”), Canberra City Band director, Dr Richard Mason took the ensemble at quite a clip.
In other offerings, Mason took tempi too fast, sometimes even accelerating, like in the first of the four “Scottish Dances”, by Malcolm Arnold. The band made a valiant effort to keep up, but oft-times lost clarity and even timing on occasion. Then, when a slow piece came long – Aaron Copland’s “Long Time Ago” – the tempo lumbered along.
The second half opener, William Walton’s march, “Crown Imperial”, taken at a better pace, became a highlight of the whole program. The band played it beautifully, especially in the middle, more lyrical, section.
Special guest soloist, soprano Livia Brash, has quite a solid, “meaty” voice with an amazing range (at first I thought she was a mezzo) and excellent control, never forced, effortlessly reaching impossibly high notes. Using her vocal range and versatility to the full, Brash sang a wide range of repertoire.
Her highlight was the well-known Maori lullaby “Hine e Hine”, which she sang with the beautifully balanced Canberra Choral Society, directed by Dianna Nixon.
The Choir’s highlights were the famous “Va Pensiero” (chorus of the Hebrew slaves), from Verdi’s “Nabucco”, and Canberra composer, Sally Greenaway’s setting of Waltzing Matilda, with Livia Brash singing the solo line. The unaccompanied “Nimrod” from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”, though, had uncertain harmonies, and Nixon took the tempo too fast.
As is proper etiquette at any proms concert, there was audience participation. But this time, all the community songs were the time-honoured Australian favourites, from “Click Go the Shears” to “I Still Call Australia Home”.
But the proms tradition had the last say, with the so-called Prommers up in the gallery, hoiking streamers and leading the band, the choir and audience with gusto in a lively “Land of Hope and Glory”, finishing off a laid-back Sundey-arvo of good fun.