Oxford Philomusica: Christ Church
‘And the band played on . . .” — OK, this is actually from the Titanic, but the phrase popped into my head on Saturday night as the heavens opened and the Oxford Philomusica played resolutely on, with conductor Marios Papadopoulos managing to appear blissfully unaware of the monsoon conditions around him. At one point the rain reached such a crescendo that it almost drowned out the orchestra with its relentless hammering on the tarpaulin above the grandstand. Full marks to those intrepid folks who sat, hunched in their rain ponchos, right through to the bitter end.
But what a concert it was. Despite the weather, Christ Church still looked spectacular in the early evening light, and even more so as darkness fell and the ancient walls glowed in the soft floodlighting.
This Jubilee concert was a recreation of another historic occasion — the first open air promenade concert given in 1961. Apparently the audience at that event was lucky enough to enjoy a perfect summer’s evening!
Dvorak’s ninth symphony, From the New World, gave a suitably celebratory feel to the evening right from the start. This was a really exciting, vibrant performance, with Papadopoulos drawing some wonderful sounds from his players: a sweet and clear flute in the opening movement, a sublime cor anglais in the second, the sparkling dance melodies of the Scherzo and that glorious final Allegro, all delivered with flamboyance and spontaneity.
After the interval things felt even more Jubilee-like; the tone was set with Walton’s Crown Imperial, another enthralling piece of irresistible brilliance. Verdi’s Triumphal March from Aida has all the ceremony and pomp you need for a royal occasion, but the evening’s pièce de résistance was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, performed complete with cannons (courtesy of ‘soldiers’ from the Napoleonic Society) and a suitably noisy firework display that must have lifted even the dampest of spirits. Absolutely stunning.