The Mountbatten Festival of Music, Royal Albert Hall, review: a jolly and poignant tribute to Britain's Forces and a much-loved Prince 

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex meet the Massed Bands of Her Majesty's Royal Marines at the Mountbatten Festival of Music, Royal Albert Hall
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex meet the Massed Bands of Her Majesty's Royal Marines at the Mountbatten Festival of Music, Royal Albert Hall Credit: Eddie Mulholland

Standing ovations usually occur at the end of a performance. But on Saturday night, the final show in this year’s Mountbatten Festival of Music began with one, as HRH Prince Harry took his seat next to his wife Meghan in what was his last official duty as Captain General of the Royal Marines. The roar was spontaneous and heartfelt. Before they had taken their seats, live footage of the pair meeting band members backstage had been broadcast: Meghan in a red dress so radiant it out-glowed the livery of the Marines themselves; Harry, in dress uniform for the final time, greeting former comrades but also saying farewell. If I felt a bit choked, one can only guess at what the Prince must have been feeling.

This festival, performed annually for charity by the exceptional massed bands of the Royal Marines, is always an emotional event. Serving to both celebrate and memorialise the work of Britain’s elite forces, this year it commemorated both the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the 80th anniversary of the British Commandos. It’s invariably a varied programme, but with Harry in attendance you could be forgiven for detecting in the choices an extra dollop of poignancy. From traditional marching tunes to classic English melodies, the music embodied the ideals of duty and sacrifice, and of Englishness itself. Oh and Welsh – there was a Tom Jones medley in honour of his 80th birthday.

 The Massed Bands of Her Majesty's Royal Marines

Much of it was also fabulous. A frenetic two minute drum static from the Corps of Drums, batons synchronising like rapid fire semaphore and commemorating a Second World War victory against the Japanese by the 14th Army, sounded as precise and terrifying as any artillery fire. The pulse quickening The Green Hornet soared on the wings of an extraordinary skittering duet between trumpet and xylophone. Soloist Simon Topper, whose clarinet seemed to sing with the vigour of a thousand gurgling streams in the Brazilian choro Tico-Tico, provided ample proof that the Royal Marines massed bands possess musicianship to rival any international orchestra. The overture from Verdi’s Nabucco was just sublime.

Throughout, heritage was balanced with the present day. Still, sometimes the overtly popular gestures felt comparatively glib: I could have done without the Gloria Estefan medley. And while the Sir Tom medley showcased the extraordinary vocals of George Gissing and Samantha McIndoe, the inclusion of the controversial crowd-pleaser Delilah felt ill judged. One can only imagine what Meghan must have thought.

But mainly the mood was ruminative and highly charged. Emotionally draining music from the film Gladiator accompanied tributes to fallen Royal Marines in footage that also featured Harry; a brief video campaign accompanying The Sound of Silence highlighted the mental health crisis engulfing veterans and the rest of the country – a cause close to Harry’s heart.

The inextricable link between Britain and its armed forces rippled on the air, from Vaughan Williams’ gorgeous variation on Greensleeves to the ENSA tribute featuring popular Second World War tunes, including There’ll Always Be An England. That song, accompanied by waving union jacks, felt like both a neatly packaged expression of patriotism and a personal message to a much loved prince. Let's hope he feels the same way.