Voices of approval for the Proms

Proms 20, 21, 24, 25 & 26, Royal Albert Hall, London

By George Hall, Sunday August 6, 2006, The Observer

After the first performance of a new work, composers sometimes have to wait years for a second. A few hours after the first realisation of his choral piece We Turned on the Light in an afternoon Prom (20) given by the BBC Scottish Symphony under Martyn Brabbins last Saturday, Orlando Gough heard it again that evening with the BBC Symphony under David Robertson. It went down a storm on both occasions.

Setting a new, ecologically correct text by Caryl Churchill reminding us how our over-consumption of the earth's resources is landing us in big trouble, Gough's work is scored for large chorus and full orchestra - forces he handles with immense flair and panache. As with the orchestra, the main body of singers changed between the two performances - youth choirs from all over the UK sang the first; the BBC Symphony Chorus and Huddersfield Choral Society the second. But, in both renditions, a lot of the punch of this explosive piece came from Gough's own diversely constituted choir, the Shout - whose members come from backgrounds taking in gospel, jazz and blues, as well as contemporary classical, opera and early music - and from more informally assembled participants operating under the name of the Rabble.

These two Proms celebrated the singing voice. Getting the afternoon event off to a flying start was an atmospheric opener by Gough called, aptly, Open, which featured the mesmerising vocalism of Carol Grimes and Manickam Yogeswaran, among others, ricocheting around the Albert Hall at all levels and from every direction.

Brabbins also conducted a limp account of Poulenc's Gloria, and one of Gershwin's An American in Paris where the transatlantic tourist kept his guidebook firmly in hand and never strayed towards the more dubious bits of Montmartre or Pigalle - which is arguably not the point of the piece nor, perhaps, of Paris. But a true highlight was the singing of 13-year-old treble Sam Adams Nye, in Bernstein's sassy-yet-sacred Chichester Psalms, which held the audience spellbound.