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HCR104FM visits the Battle Proms

On 13th August 2016 while most of the rest of the HCR104FM team were busy with the Huntingdon Carnival and Live in the park I was fortunate enough to be at the Battle prom at Ragley Hall Warwickshire to review the concert for my Sunday evening show Cool Classics. We were lucky enough to also be able to offer a pair of tickets to one lucky HCRFM listener to this event as well.

The weather was good, clear and sunny yet a nice breeze. On arrival a team of well drilled marshal’s dressed in hi viz vests guided me to a suitable parking space within the grounds. Parking is on the grass but this was well cut. The walk to the concert area was about 5 minutes. Disabled parking was available and was much closer.

The concert arena itself had a main stage covered in case of inclement weather and next to it a giant screen to enable even those right at the back to see proceedings. To the side of the arena was a huge 13 pounder gun for use in the concert and withy the other entertainment and events and next to that was a lake that had been set up with cannons, mortars and other pyrotechnics all for use at the event. Gates opened at 4-30pm and the arena soon filled up. People of all ages, families old and young taking their places on the grass area in front of the stage and breaking out chairs, tables and picnic hampers. While they were doing this re-enactors from the Napoleonic era and others dressed in World War 1 uniform mingled and posed for photographs. There were stall, food trucks and opportunities to purchase appropriate flags of allegiance to wave during the concert finale.

The prelude to the concert was a display of cavalry from Crown and Empire. This year they were decked in WW1 military uniform to commemorate 100 years since the Somme and poignant tributes were made including a minutes silence, not only in the memory of those who gave their lives but for the horses who gave their lives too. Excellent horsemanship and an entertaining commentary set the audience up for the first musical act the Rockabellas, a female trio dubbed the modern Andrews sisters accompanied by their sparkling horn and brass section the Rockafellas! Their set included a couple of swinging 40’s versions of more modern songs including hits from the Beatles! This warmed the audience up very nicely for the main event.

The concert started with pomp and circumstance March number 4 by Elgar and the opening to symphony number 1 to which a choreographed air display from the Grace Spitfire had the audience cooing with delight. There is something quintessentially British about Elgar’s music and the drone of a spitfires engine. It was emotional, moving and exciting all at the same time.

The light cavalry overture by Von Suppe also had a choreographed display this time by the Cavalry of Crown and Empire and after this the audience settled down for the rest of the first half of the music. The New English Concert Orchestra conducted by Douglas Coombes performed Mendelssohn’s symphony number 4( the Italian) and the 1812 overture and in between they accompanied trumpeter Imogen Hancock who played Haydn’s trumpet concerto in E flat and the Trumpet Voluntary by Jeremiah Clarke. She did so with some aplomb. The finale of the first half was the 1812 overture by Tchaikovsky and this was wonderfully accompanied and choreographed with the explosions from the 13 pounder gun and cannons from the lake. It made the ground shake! During the interval compere Pam Rhodes read messages, birthday wishes and generally kept the audience up to date and informed.

The second half of the concert started with Denise Leigh the soprano, singing Offenbach’s Orpheus in the underworld and Deh Vieni, Non Tardar from Mozart’s the marriage of Figaro. Given the lack of acoustics in an open air concert her voice was crisp, clear and very strong. Johan Strauss’s Artists life waltz was then followed by what should be considered the climax of the evening’s entertainment in my view, the Battle symphony by Beethoven. This music was well performed by the orchestra but this performances was brilliantly enhanced by the musket fire of the Napoleonic re-enactor troupe and the cannon and mortar fire from 193 strategically placed guns and cannons, culminating in a firework display that lit the evening sky. Renditions of the Elephant from Carnival of the animals, Sousa’s the liberty Bell and the traditional sailor’s hornpipe followed.

The usual prom favourites of Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and land of hope and glory rounded off the evening’s entertainment accompanied by enthusiastic flag waving, singing and cheering from the 7000 or so in the audience and a final firework onslaught to the senses finished the evening off in rousing style. All min all there were a lot of happy faces, young and old. The highlight of my evening has to be the spitfire fly past accompanied by Elgar’s music but a close second would be the choreography of the pyrotechnics. So often this is out of sync with the music but at this Battle prom it fitted perfectly. I hope I get the chance to go to more for HCR104FM!