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Last Night of Bexhill Proms (Susan Elkin reviews)

De La Warr Pavilion, Sunday 1 July 2018

An hour with Rodgers and Hammerstein is, on a glorious summer evening by the sea, a welcome reminder of just what a skilled melodist and sophisticated orchestrator Richard Rodgers was.  No wonder so many of his songs are right under our collective skin and deep in the loyal Bexhill audience members who enthusiastically filled the De La Warr Pavilion to the gunwhales for this concert.

The first half took us through well chosen extracts from Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, Carousel and South Pacific – in a whole range of moods and formats. Rene Bloice-Sanders, a fine operatic tenor whose resonance and intonation is spot on, sang “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and “Some Enchanted Evening” with carefully controlled warmth and nicely managed dynamic. Lucy Ashton’s smiling personality comes through as strongly as her rich soprano voice and she seemed to be enjoying “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” as much as the audience and choir were.

The Bexhill Festival Choir, trained and led by Lorraine Barry, meanwhile did a sterling back-up job. Mostly they achieved a rich tone – with only occasional thinness in the more challenging bits – and it’s encouraging to see amateur singers working with such verve, heads and eyes up.

That confidence was at least in part due to Ken Roberts who is an assertively supportive conductor – giving the choir almost full attention when they’re singing. He also coaxed a pretty good sound out of the 40 musicians in the orchestra although there were signs that some of the music was under-rehearsed. The Carousel Waltz is a medley and every musician knows that these are some of the hardest things to bring off because the joins are so tricky – and in this performance the trickiness sometimes showed. Elsewhere in the concert some of the instrumental solo work would have benefited from a bit more work behind the scenes too.

Ken Roberts – whose link chat was arguably unnecessary anyway – really should cut the ageist jokes too. I’ve heard him before making unfunny comments about age and it does not go down well – probably the only moments in the whole evening when there was a momentary sour note.

The second half provided the party that most people in the audience had come for, having bought or brought their little union flags ready to wave. Now, to be honest, all that jingoistic stuff, however tongue-in-cheek, isn’t my cup of tea. I identify strongly with Elgar who loathed  Benson’s words to Pomp and Circumstance March No 1  (although it didn’t stop him enjoying the royalties). Nonetheless it was good to hear Coates’s nostalgically familiar Calling All Workers played with crisp affection. It’s fun too to hear Henry Wood’s Sea Songs played live because the orchestration is so colourful. And the audience was having a whale of a time.

First published by Lark Reviews:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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