I have to confess that an event like this is not within my normal musical radar. My music reviewing and listening is predominantly serious classical, and most of it is for a specialist part of that wide repertoire. So it was a slightly brave, or foolhardy, idea to offer to review one of these musical spectaculars at my local castle. The Battle Proms have been going since 1997 and run at six well-known country house venues during July and August. As the name suggests, the theme is somewhat military, with a pre-concert display of Napoleonic cavalry and infantry (with encouragement to boo the French), a military piper and a concert that opened with a blast from a huge vintage field gun followed by Holst’s ‘Jupiter’ accompanied by a Spitfire flying display. The evening got increasingly jingoistic (flags were on sale at the entrance), and finished with the standard ‘Last night of the Proms’ fare of the Sailor’s Hornpipe, Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory, complete with fireworks. Not surprisingly, we also got the ‘1812’, complete with the required cannon, and something of a highlight of these events, Beethoven’s curious and rarely played ‘Wellington’s Victory, or ‘Battle Symphony’. Although Beethoven made lots of money from this work, he dismissed it in no uncertain terms, referring to it as ‘scheise’ – Tchaikovsky was similarly deriding of his ‘1812’, stating that it was “ without artistic merit”. Included amongst Beethoven’s orchestration are 193 cannons, and this is one of the few (and possibly the only) occasions when you get to hear the whole shebang, as well as some added musket shots, just because they could. You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck at these events. The first performance of Wellington’s Victory was given in aid of Bavarian and Austrian soldiers wounded in the wars with the French, so it was apt that these events also raise money for the ex-services mental welfare charity, Combat Stress.

© BBC/Chris Christodoulou
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

The orchestra were heavily amplified, so much so that even when close to the stage it was the loudspeaker sound that dominated. The playing was not exactly up the standard that my normal reviewing activities reward me with, but it was good to hear the excellent young horn player Anna Douglas in two works. The soprano was Denise Leigh, the winner of the TV show Operatunity, and a regular at these events, and a jovial presenter from Songs of Praise compared the event.

These events are certainly popular - the Highclere Castle incarnation attracted around 8000 people, spread over a huge site to the side of, and in full view of, the Victorian castle, with a special marquee set aside for Saga. Most groups had tables and chairs and jealously guarded their space and their view. The flag waving was enthusiastic, with a number of people wrapping themselves in the English flag. I just hope nobody had any French friends with them.