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SEEN AND HEARD UK CONCERT REVIEW
Hollywood Rhapsody: Korngold, Franz Waxman, David Raksin, Bronislaw Kaper, Miklós Rózsa, Cole Porter arranged by Conrad Salinger, Herbert Stothart/Harold Arlen, Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Max Steiner: BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, John Wilson, Barbican Hall, Silk Street, London, 9.1.2011 (BBr)King’s Row – Main Title (1942)
Franz Waxman: Prince Valiant – Suite (1954)
David Raksin: The Bad and the Beautiful – Theme (1951)
Bronsilaw Kaper: Mutiny on the Bounty – Overture (1962)
Rózsa: Madame Bovary – Waltz (1949)
Cole Porter arranged by Conrad Salinger: Silk Stockings – ballet sequence (1957)
Herbert Stothart/Harold Arlen: The Wizard of Oz – Suite (1939)
Alfred Newman: Airport – Main Title (1970)
The Song of Bernadette – Suite (1943)
Bernard Herrmann: North by Northwest – Suite (1959)
Max Steiner: Gone with the Wind (1939)
A packed Barbican Hall was filled with the sound of rapturous applause this afternoon for one simple reason – the audience was given some of the most tuneful, exciting, colourful and vital music to fill the hall in some time. And, most importantly, whether contemporary or classical, it’s tuneful music that the public wants.
Korngold’s ‘Main Title’ for King’s Row – a film which sees Ronald Reagan’s character having his legs amputated and thus eliciting the line, “Where’s the rest of me?” – made a fabulous swashbuckling start to the show – even though the film contains neither swash nor buckle. Franz Waxman’s Prince Valiant is a real swashbuckler and this is music in the heroic mould. It’s the kind of score which most people would associate with Hollywood – blazing horns and sweeping strings – and Wilson let his orchestra revel in the romantic excess of it all.
David Raksin studied with Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, but you’d never know it from the richly scored and highly tuneful scores he wrote – over 100 for film and 300 for television – including the haunting theme for Otto Preminger’s Laura in 1944, which, with Johnny Mercer’s lyric, became the second most recorded song. The Bad and the Beautiful is the story of a Hollywood producer who has managed to alienate all his associates. Raksin wrote a searingly passionate, and powerful, score, from which we heard two movements. This was given a technicolour performance, with a nicely placed sax solo from Howard McGill.
Unfortunately, after all this heated music, Kaper’s Overture to Mutiny on the Bounty failed to register for, although it had all the swagger and sweep required by the subject, it’s just not a particularly good piece, and suffered from comparison with the rest. Director Vincente Minelli told Miklós
The first half ended with music from two of the greatest musicals ever made – Silk Stockings and The Wizard of Oz, but, rather cleverly, instead of a quodlibet of the big tunes Wilson gave us a dance sequence from the former - created to accompany Cyd Charisse dressing and dancing to express her delight in bourgeois women’s wear - and a suite from the latter which concentrated on Herbert Stothart’s incidental score. Delightful stuff indeed, and most welcome as it brought to our attention music which might have gone unnoticed by the side of the great songs.
After the interval came Alfred Newman’s marvellous title music for Airport; very “modern”, by his standards, and a great chance for the BBC Symphony to sound like a really big Big Band. I have always thought that Newman’s score for The Song of Bernadette was a bit over–the–top and that’s how it was played today. Perhaps that’s the best way to treat it, for it isn’t Newman at his best, though many will disagree with me. Bernard Herrmann’s score for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest put it to shame for here is a great score, typical of its composer, and a real riot of sound. The Overture, which Herrmann called a dance of death was manically exciting, the tarantella danced by the man with the scythe himself. (It’s interesting that in the TV advertisements when the British Government sold off British Rail, this music was used; a portent of the poor, and sometimes dangerous, service which has subsequently been delivered to the public!) Two small cues came between this and the final chase sequence on Mount Rushmore. This was a real highlight and delighted everyone present. To end, a Suite from Max Steiner’s music for Gone with the Wind, and it’s no small feat to choose a quarter of an hour’s music from a score of nearly three hours duration, but Wilson achieved a nicely balanced selection, culminating in the final statement of the great Tara Theme.
In general, a very good show, but the chorus was slightly unresponsive and the orchestra seemed disinclined, occasionally, to obey Wilson’s demands; too often the brass enjoyed themselves rather too much, and to the detriment of the rest of the orchestra. BBC Radio 3 recorded the show for broadcast in June.