Nothing had prepared me for Rumon Gamba: his maniacally gesticulating, bug-eyed display took the breath away; he is certainly in the running for Campest Conductor of the Year. Although I couldnít see the need for all of his wild gestures I canít fault his music-making: this was one of the few film music concerts in which the tempi seemed spot on. Then again of course these were largely concert pieces by concert-hall composers.
Aside from The Belles Of St Trinians the first half didnít offer many surprises. I donít care for Rawsthorne and The Cruel Sea didnít grab me. Baxís Oliver Twist is always welcome and it is surprising that it isnít programmed more often, given that it was effectively written as a concert work.
"The Warsaw Concerto" (Richard Addinsell from Dangerous Moonlight) was performed and received enthusiastically but, honestly, we would all be better served if it were locked in an attic for 50 years. Were it not for the poor musical taste of the audiences at the time, I doubt it would still be well known: there are better mock concertos and there is better Addinsell.
The Belles was performed with gusto and appropriate humour: Gamba wearing a schoolmasterís gown, the pianists dressed as schoolboys, and the percussionists wearing boaters and pigtails. Not a work one would want to hear often but a good choice for such an occasion. A rousing end to the first half was provided by Richard III, written by Walton in his best ceremonial style.
The surprises and real pleasures came in the second half. It was great to have a suite from Richard Rodney Bennettís Murder On The Orient Express, especially when played with such aplomb and attention to the rhythms. The John Barry section threatened to be a little out of place - and it was, but not disagreeably. Dances With Wolves and Goldfinger offered no revelations but it was a joy to hear "OO7" in place of "The James Bond Theme" and, on balance, I was pleased (if surprised)that the Bond excerpts did not extend beyond these two: covers of Bond songs never quite cut it and weíll likely never have a live performance of the incidental music.
The highlight of the Barry was an enchanting and generous selection from The Lion In Winter in which the orchestra were augmented by the BBC Singers. Finally came the highlight of the concert, Arthur Blissí Things To Come. This evergreen score is classical in all senses: it is truly great music with a life wholly separate from the film and ranks in the top ten of British film scores. It is music which can be illuminated fresh in every performance. True, Bernard Herrmann only managed to shine a flickering 40W bulb on it but if Sir Charles Groves (with the Royal Philharmonic in a classic 1970ís recording) shone 100W then Gamba at least achieved a respectable 75W. His performance did not stray far from the Chandos recording. Ultimately it was perhaps a little disappointing: the Hymn could have done with a little more Elgarian swagger and it was a huge shame that, given the presence of the BBC Singers, we werenít treated to those final choral phrases, especially when Timothy West had quoted them!
Editorís note: All the selections, bar those from John Barry, can also be found in studio versions with Rumon Gamba conducting the BBC Philharmonic on the Chandos labelís British Film Music series. Chandos compilation disc, British Film Classics, released to coincide with this concert is reviewed this month by Mark Hockley.