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Review

Castle Howard
Edward Gifford

︎ Huddled beneath umbrellas, a whorl of red and white crouched away from the dark, thunderous clouds rising from the House, drawn as if by some invisible thread over the stage and out across the Great Lake; swirling grey and misted green, Turner in monochrome. Wet English faces peering about, moon shaped and dog eyed; a wrinkled hand with a glass of fizz and a cold sausage; couples wrapped in Gore-Tex and Musto, as if waiting on a quay for expeditions needing crew; just a wet summer’s evening.

The musical particulars, despite best efforts, were poorly arranged. Included were the favourites of the Prom regulars: 633 Squadron, Pomp and Circumstance march No.4, Colonel Bogey – unfortunately, played at the beginning, by an orchestra straight out of a two-year hiatus, left them flat without range, especially at the lower end.
    They were followed by a terribly odd interlude as the GoCompare actor appeared on stage,  not to sing but for a comedy sketch, evidently cooked up over lockdown and tried on nobody. It garnered sniggers in places, mostly his Welsh drone reverberated tinnily off pediments and urns. His voice did manage to claw back some impression of self-respect, singing excerpts from Puccini and Verdi woefully mingled with Pop hits. ‘Bread and games’, my brother leaned in.
    Slinking off at the interval, umbrellas hooked over chairs just in case, to wander about unincumbered by the usual tourist hoards granted some perspective on the evening. The House, recognisable from Brideshead and more recently Bridgerton, held its chin up proudly against the assaulting rain. Atlas, bearing a weighty world, exalted by a triton quartet propelling jets of gleaming water, in turn kneels to Vanbrugh’s masterwork.

A work that brought English baroque out of infancy, drawing together various threads of monumental design that had existed in isolation; Wren’s drawings, Webb’s block at Greenwich, and Talman’s Chatsworth.

Observed, as we did, from the South Parterre rather than the quadrant forecourt, the façade looked rather over-done; too busy in an effort to trick the eye, too many pilasters and un-transomed windows; the frontage unsteady and top heavy, a Georgian glutton on high-heeled wedges. On closer inspection one finds the décor excessive; curvilinear and bar tracery clash needlessly; the entablature hangs heavy with vines, figs and cherubs; stiff-leaf is pushed into every nook and cranny; fluted pilasters sprout Corinthian capitals.

In this sense then, it was right to hold the concert here; jamming a sing-a-long version of Nessun Dorma up against a pitifully short excerpt of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No.2; the rousing melody of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Finale butting heads with the GoCompare advert theme.  
    The organisers, perhaps working off pent-up steam, crammed too much for too long without theme. By the time the usual, worn-out ending of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory came, the event had dissipated, leaving grotesque figures, silhouetted against a smoky glow, jerking and lurching to some esoteric rhythm; spasmodic in the dark hollow whilst the surface of the lake rippled gently, gracefully receiving the rain it had lost only hours before︎


Chargé D'affaires - Depuis 2020