A Celebration of Ivor Novello, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2012Posted on 10 August 2012
“A gentle, more elegant age” was how the BBC’s Katie Derham referred to the world of Ivor Novello in her brief introduction, quoting We’ll Gather Lilacs in connection with his funeral in 1951. After that we were placed in the very capable hands of Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra for a glorious late night concert.
They played superbly, and Simon Callow was a wonderful master of ceremonies reciting a quiver full of delightful anecdotes prepared by Paul Ibell. Apparently Novello went to jail during the war for misuse of petrol coupons by his chauffeur, and the judge decided that the usual £50 fine would not be enough. Anti-theatre, and anti-gay he sentenced the great artist to prison, who when he came out and appeared on stage again, received a three-minute standing ovation. This was while his hugely successful show The Dancing Years was playing, which as Callow told us was initially of some embarrassment to the appeasement policy of the British Government. Dancing Years, set in Austria, did not portray the Nazis favourably, but with Novello himself in the main role it was extraordinarily popular and we were treated to three of its songs.
The singers were Sophie Bevan, and Toby Spence bravely returning to the stage after an operation for thyroid cancer. It was a huge pleasure to see him perform again, and this was perhaps a cautious try-out. Lovely singing as usual, though he avoided some top notes, and was miked up for the encore. Ms Bevan’s voice is so beautifully pure and she was particularly sweet in I Can Give You The Starlight, yet apart from Why Isn’t It You she barely interacted with him.
After Toby Spence had opened with that old First World War favourite Keep The Home Fires Burning, we were taken on a lovely late evening tour of Novello’s music, ending with We’ll Gather Lilacs as an encore. Novello died suddenly a few hours after a performance and his ashes at the Golders Green Crematorium were laid beneath a lilac bush.
The performance will be broadcast on BBC2 at 8 p.m. on Saturday, 11 August 2012.