Hot on the heels of this year’s Hollywood Rhapsody Prom came its less glamorous, perhaps geekier sibling, the Film Music Prom. There was less of the fanfare and opulence here; this was about the silver screen (and by that, I don’t mean the sort that is coming back into use for 3D films) and sci-fi. War films from either side of the Atlantic served ulterior purposes beyond mere entertainment: they constituted a sometimes less-than-discreet form of propaganda, aiming to portray the brutal theatre of war as something a little softer, as well as to give hope to loved ones left behind. War-themed films remained popular for a considerable time after the Second World War had ended – indeed, war rations were not fully abolished until as late as 1954, and the Allies’ ultimate victory had made films sensationalising the glory of the war something of a hot ticket.

The BBC Concert Orchestra at Prom 24 © BBC/Chris Christodoulou
The BBC Concert Orchestra at Prom 24
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

William Alwyn’s rousing March from the 1945 film The True Glory: from D-Day to VE-Day – a project of the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information, and produced by one Dwight D. Eisenhower (though he was not credited) – received a regrettably flat first Proms performance. In and of itself, this is a coherent march, though in the film the sections appear at separate points in the film, but the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Keith Lockhart, struggled to provide a sense of this cohesion. The balance issues (the back of the orchestra was decidedly up on the front in terms of volume) were not helpful, either.

Fortunately, this was not to be the pattern for the remainder of the Prom. William Walton’s soundtrack to the well-known 1969 film Battle of Britain was rejected by Hollywood producers, save for the evocative “Battle in the Air” sequence, but several sections of the score are now familiar – not least the opening “Spitfire Music” which the BBC CO handled confidently and with style. The “Battle in the Air” was a particular highlight; the dramatic tension and energetic, responsive playing meant it took relatively little effort to imagine the planes spinning and soaring above ground drowned in the wail of air-raid sirens.

A tribute to the late Richard Rodney Bennett came in his Elegy for viola and orchestra from the 1972 costume drama Lady Caroline Lamb. Soloist Lawrence Power was commanding and captivating throughout, though the melodramatic Lento love theme was especially enjoyable. There then followed a march from Leighton Lucas’ soundtrack to Ice Cold in Alex. Lucas is not the most recognised of names in the film music world, perhaps because Eric Coates’ famous March from The Dam Busters pushed the rest of the score (by Lucas) out of the limelight, but the music is no less worthy of attention. The first half ended with Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto for piano from the film Dangerous Moonlight, a gentle pastiche of Rachmaninov’s style. Soloist Valentina Lisitsa is an advocate for understanding the piece on its own merits, but the swooping crescendi in accompaniment and impassioned playing from Lisitsa only brought the connection with Rachmaninov closer to the fore.

2001: A Space Odyssey, which opened the second, sci-fi-themed half of this Prom, is unusual in its use of standalone classical pieces to provide atmosphere. The opening of Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra is what comes to mind when the film is mentioned, and indeed the orchestra gave an exciting performance of it here, but it was the Ligeti Atmosphères that was the real star in this set of pieces, its creeping discordance providing a sense of unsettled nervousness. A fine, if not outstanding, rendition of Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz completed the set.

Lockhart’s asking whether there were any Trekkies in the audience elicited just a few embarrassed woops, but the suite of music, by Michael Giacchino, from the recent Star Trek Into Darkness was very well received. It is an exciting score, and the BBC CO was on top form in this world première, clearly relishing all the fanfare of the piece. The end titles from Independence Day (by David Arnold) suffered from a drop in enthusiasm in the playing; the contrast between the aggressive and more peaceful sections of music could have been greater. Jerry Goldsmith’s very different end titles music from the film Alien fared better, and the orchestra made the most of its unusual scoring and ultimately rather romantic feel.

The Prom was rounded off by John Williams’ revered Star Wars suite, with its clearly defined musical sections reflecting the various characters from the films. Cantina Band raised a few chuckles from the arena, but the main theme made sure that this mixed bag of a concert ended on a high.

***11