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Doreen Carwithen, Grace Williams and Vaughan Williams look out to sea on the BBC Proms – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United KingdomUnited Kingdom BBC Proms 2022 [9], Promenade 16 – Doreen Carwithen, Grace Williams, Vaughan Williams: Elizabeth Llewellyn (soprano), Jacques Imbrailo (baritone), BBC Symphony Refrain, BBC Nationwide Refrain and Orchestra of Wales / Andrew Manze (conductor). Recorded on the Royal Albert Corridor, London, (directed by Rhodri Huw) and now out there on BBC iPlayer, 27.7.2022. (JPr)

Elizabeth Llewellyn (soprano) and Jacques Imbrailo (baritone) singing in A Sea Symphony © BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Doreen CarwithenBishop Rock overture
Grace WilliamsSea Sketches
Vaughan Williams – A Sea Symphony (Symphony No.1)

This Promenade with the BBC Nationwide Orchestra of Wales and performed by Andrew Manze was given the title ‘Sea Sketches’ and – as a result of it’s not my naturally territory – for a musical evocation of the ocean my thoughts goes to Debussy’s La Mer and Britten’s North Sea in Peter Grimes. What the BBC programmed this 12 months was a premiere, a rarity and, within the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his delivery, Vaughan Williams’s spawling A Sea Symphony – the primary and longest of his symphonies – itself solely getting its eleventh efficiency in Proms historical past. It was first heard on the Leeds Pageant in 1910 however didn’t attain the Proms till 1946 performed by Sir Adrian Boult and with Isobel Baillie as a soloist. Curiously, in comparison with the hardly 90 minutes of music in 2022 the viewers in 1946 additionally heard Lennox Berkeley’s Nocturne, Op.25, Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor and the overtures from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Weber’s Der Freischütz.

Maybe it is a topic for dialogue on the finish of this Proms season however together with considerations over rail journey, Covid and the price of dwelling maybe the shortness of a number of the Proms – on this and up to date seasons – might clarify why the Royal Albert Corridor appeared barely half-full. Certainly with the massed forces for A Sea Symphony arrayed on and above the platform for the second half there appeared to be virtually as many there as within the stalls and sparsely populated promenading space. (Certainly – regardless of being known as the ‘Proms’ – it’s time now for everybody to be seated other than on the Final Night time and maybe the higher reaches of the RAH might be left unsold, apart from the extra widespread occasions?)

It’s the centenary of Doreen Carwithen’s delivery and whereas she is remembered later in her life for championing her husband William Alwyn’s music, in her personal proper she earlier composed the music for quite a lot of movies within the late Forties to mid-50s. Maybe essentially the most notable was her 1953 rating for Elizabeth Is Queen, the official movie of the coronation in June that 12 months. The transient overture Bishop Rock was composed the 12 months earlier than and makes an attempt to offer an impression of that westernmost a part of the Isles of Scilly and its well-known lighthouse. Proper from the beginning there are brass interjections that all through Bishop Rock may signify the lighthouse, particularly with the opening horn motif. That starting is stormy and all of it builds to a formidable climax when a passage from the violin of BBC NOW’s chief, Nick Whiting, ushers in a interval of calm earlier than a tempest rages as soon as extra, starting within the low strings and ending in a brass chorale and a few emphatic chords. It was splendidly performed by the orchestra and Carwithen’s music was stirring and undoubtedly filmic and however I didn’t hear the ocean, however which will simply be me, and it was a worthy Proms premiere, nonetheless.

Grace Williams (1906-77) is considered one in every of Wales’s most vital composers and her 1944 Sea Sketches for string orchestra supposedly depicts – over 5 brief actions – the ocean in all its numerous moods. Listening to this work for the primary time what I picked up on was how the music of every half oddly pale away on the finish which tended to substantiate them as ‘sketches’ for me. Like Carwithen, Williams’s music was filmic and extremely illustrative however, once more, not at all times of the ocean for me. Excessive Wind sounded simply that with the flurry of strings; Crusing Tune was gently rocking however may have been dance music; are the ‘sirens’ in Channel Sirens conserving sailors off rocks or luring them onto them, both means, the music within the low strings was relatively mysterious and mournful; Breakers is a Presto and appeared to foreshadow the drama of Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Alfred Hitchcock; and Calm Sea in Summer time was gently lilting (lapping?). Manze and the BBC NOW had been excellent advocates for Grace Williams’s music, although I needed the conductor had taken his head from the rating and engaged extra together with his musicians.

A Sea Symphony on the BBC Proms 2022 © BBC/Chris Christodoulou

To listen to Vaughan Williams’s mighty A Sea Symphony at its finest I believe you’d have wanted to be within the Royal Albert Corridor and never listening by means of the loudspeakers of a TV. However – the apparently 200plus voices of – the mixed BBC Symphony Refrain and the BBC Nationwide Refrain of Wales, in addition to the conductor and his orchestra, sounded as in the event that they had been absolutely as much as the calls for of a large and sophisticated rating. Vaughan Williams makes use of poetry by Walt Whitman all through his first symphony, not just for its philosophical and humanist nature, however as a result of Whitman used free verse, and an analogous freedom of method was one thing ‘making waves’ (sorry!) amongst some composers of Vaughan Williams’s era. Nonetheless, from the opening phrases (‘Behold, the ocean itself’) of this A Sea Symphony I did want the BBC 4 transmission had subtitles so I may have adopted the phrases higher. It’s a sprawling work of simply over an hour and, other than for its admirers, it might outstay its welcome, regardless of – not less than to my ears – Manze hustling everybody by means of the work on this event.

There are a lot of impressed, vibrant musical passages from Vaughan Williams amongst some others which can be extra prosaic, however general what we heard was typically brimming with drama and ambiance proper from begin. The opening motion (A Tune for All Seas, All Ships) has the soloists duetting with the refrain. Jacques Imbrailo’s baritone was lyrical, eloquent, sturdy, commanding and completely at his ease, whereas Elizabeth Llewellyn was relatively understated for her, though her dependable soprano voice is at all times a factor of magnificence. The second motion (On the Seashore at Night time Alone) was darkish and brooding and never for the final time on this symphony I started to suppose Mahler had been a musical inspiration for Vaughan Williams. The quixotic third motion (Scherzo: The Waves) with its oratorio-like refrain and the singing of Whitman’s ‘After the Sea-ship’ as a hymn steered a maelstrom. After what had been clearly some acquainted Wagnerian chords all of it ended with the refrain sing triumphantly ‘Following the stately and speedy ship, within the wake following’.

Lastly the final motion (The Explorers) started with brass, timpani and organ ushering us into Vaughan Williams’s attainable homage to Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony with Imbrailo sometimes assured throughout ‘O we will wait now not’ and Llewellyn rather less so, although nonetheless singing impeccably. Following ‘Chanting our chant of nice exploration’ Whiting’s violin impressed as soon as extra earlier than A Sea Symphony reached its conclusion with music at first rollicking and rumbustious. Then on the very finish Llewellyn, Imbrailo and the elegant refrain mixed in a prayerful ‘O my courageous soul! O farther farther sail! O daring pleasure, however protected! are they not all of the seas of God? O farther, farther, farther sail!’ as music ebbed away one final time on this ‘Sea Sketches’ Promenade.

Jim Pritchard

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