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Beautiful Bucks setting for a powerful performance
1:30pm Sunday 1st July 2012 in Freetime
WHEELING red kites above the pinnacled roofline of Waddesdon Manor set an exciting scene for the concert given by tenor Russell Watson on Friday in the spectacular setting of this Rothschild mansion writes Liz Collins.
As the birds rode the thermals their magical display was met in kind by Russell who opened this Jubilee Proms concert with God Save the Queen to an appreciative roar from the crowds – people enjoying the music in front of what must be one of the most impressive backdrops in Europe.
And Russell played the crowds with his usual relaxed friendly style, remarking that during his rendition of Danny Boy, he’d heard not only the rooks cawing while making their way to nest for the night, but also the popping of a Champagne cork – "Happy Birthday!", he called out, no doubt enhancing that person’s celebration by making it that much more personal and an evening to remember.
The concert was billed as a chance to enjoy Russell’s repertoire from his top-selling albums and it did not disappoint. The romantic Volare from his Encore album he turned into a crowd-pleaser extraordinaire by involving the ‘west’ and east’ sides of the audience in competition on the Oh, Oh and Oh Oh, Oh Oh refrains which most people recognise. East won by a narrow margin. It is a signal of his strength as an entertainer, and not just a singer, that he is able to ‘work’ his fans without being too sugary. It’s a recipe which draws people time and again to his concerts, one onlooker saying it was the fourth time they’d enjoyed one of his open-air shows.
What of the repertoire? Well, there was the opener already mentioned followed by Danny Boy dedicated to his late grandmother, and then the spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – again with a dedication, this time to the England rugby team.
In all this he was well backed by the Arts Singers who accompanied him on stage with the Arts Symphonic Orchestra led by Robert DC Emery. There followed You Raise Me Up a beautifully controlled vocal interpretation of the inspirational song, the original music written by Secret Garden's Rolf Løvland and lyrics by Brendan Graham and which is based on Londonderry Air, and incidentally which is the same tune for Danny Boy.
The performer explained his love of another piece of music, this time A Bridge Over Troubled Waters as stemming from a time when he was due to perform in front of 350,000 people at The Capitol building in Washington and following a set by Natalie Cole. He said he was about to go on stage when there was a clap of thunder and then lightning which led to the event being cancelled. However, at a reception afterwards he had been given an award for taking part, despite not having the chance! There was a group of servicemen at the reception, some badly injured, having been in Afghanistan and when Watson met some of them they persuaded him to sing. He chose ‘Bridge’ which had brought tears to some of their eyes, but which had also brought some comfort.
“It’s great how people take strength from music… it’s how you take the knocks that counts.” said Russell, to loud applause. He has had his share with several serious brushes with ill health.
Russell then underlined his rating as ‘The People’s Tenor’ and ‘The Voice’ with Chariots of Fire theme song, Queen’s We are the Champions (which he light-heartedly suggested should have been appropriate for the finals of the European Football Championship! But it was not to be… ); Jerusalem and Flower of Scotland -- before the obligatory Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia much to the joy of the flag-waving audience, Union Jacks of all sizes aloft and voices of various calibres competing with the orchestra!
Supporting act Amore, an operatic quartet of two men and two women sang Ave Maria for openers for their set. They set the mood swinging with Brindisi, the drinking song from Verdi’s La Traviata, a foot tapper, shoulder swaying, head nodding song if ever there was one. A group which has recently released their first album, they have a successful career ahead if this performance was anything to go by.
The evening had started out fairly cool, blustery with wind blowing through the tall trees which flank the north front of the manor. But this time Russell’s tongue in cheek quip that he always takes Manchester’s weather with him did not come true and the rain stayed away. It was a long walk up a steep hill to get to the venue; a walk well worth the effort and once the hamper we’d prepared was opened and the food eaten the evening warmed up not least because Russell is a warm entertainer, no airs and graces; a solid performance which leaves you wanting to hear more. It’s no surprise that Russell’s latest album hit the top of the Classical hit list and number five overall. He’s darn good.
Waddesdon is the perfect setting for a night like this, it has a striking ambience and the stage set was beautiful. The highlight was, of course, Russell Watson himself, but the orchestra, the supporting act and the Arts backing singers were all superb. I hope he comes back again soon.
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