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REVIEW: BBC PROM 59 ‘Hollywood Rhapsody’

bbc prom 59 hollywood rhapsody blue flamingo

One of the most popular proms of the BBC season, the ‘Hollywood Rhapsody‘ performed by the John Wilson Orchestra was a storm of colour and energy.  (Full programme below).

Two things stood out.  Firstly: whilst we went to listen to the music of the films we may have seen, in listening the result was mirrored: it inspired us to see the films (again).  It is a great thing that the visual and aural complement each other so well.

Secondly: despite the first point, the music still stands in its own right without any need for the visual: Psycho and Tom & Jerry are case in point.

The perfomance was fantastic.  The 1950s Hollywood sound was generated with full horn, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and rhythm sections, alongside the great sweeping and warm tones of the strings.

Herrmann’s Psycho invoked one of the most bizarre responses we have ever seen in a live music audience.  As soon as the repeated violin lines with full harmonics emerged – there was a physical lurch and bizarre involuntary murmur.  The question really is whether the ‘screeching’ violin timbre invoked the response, or whether the association with the film is so vivid that it is that which raises the hackles.   Either way – the JW strings played this wonderfully.  It was also interesting to watch the orchestra ‘breathe’ during the ‘stabbing’ patterns.  They literally lent in and out of their instruments with their bow movements giving us a visual stab pattern.

Tom and Jerry was hilarious.  The audience were laughing and cheering.   The orchestra itself plays cat and mouse.  The muted trombone had his line stolen by the flute; the clarinet came and surprised us then stole the melody again;  the trumpets and cymbals argued with one another as to who could play the shortest and loudest.  Then of course we had the literal humour: water splashing around, bubble wrap being crinkled, snoring.  It’s so refreshing to listen to this without seeing the cartoon: the quality of the music is high, and it was so well performed.  It was clear the JW orchestra were enjoying themselves and therefore so did we.

The audience adored Venera Gimadieva with her rendition of Citizen Kane and Howard McGill’s sax playing in A Place in the Sun was wonderful.  His pure tone resonated beautifully.  Playing alone in the great Royal Albert Hall  he had the audience in the palm of his hand.  Too rarely does the RAH hear solo sax fill that great space.  Jane Monheit and Matthew Ford did a fine job with the Movie Medley and it was great to hear the orchestra come alive and burst into full on Big Band sounds.  Mike Lovatt did a top job on trumpet.

The night finished with Ben-Hur, a tale of a man whose life changes when he sees Christ’s crucifiction and the forgiveness that brings.  It was a genius way to end a great night.  What more could you want than that great RAH organ on full whack – with 15 of the best brass players going full blow.

Great programming, great spectacle, spectacular playing.  Don’t miss it on BBC Four – August 30th.

~BF

Programme

Alfred Newman: 20th Century Fox Fanfare

Alfred Newman:  How to Marry a Millionaire / Street Scene

Bronislau Kaper: Forever, Darling / Confetti

David Raksin: Laura / Suite

Bernard Herrmann: Psycho / Suite for Strings

Bernard Herrmann: Citizen Kane / Salammbô’s Aria

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Adventures of Robin Hood / Suite

INTERVAL

Jerome Moross: The Big Country / Main Title

Max Steiner: Casablanca / Suite

Move Theme Song Medley: An Affair to Remember / Something’s Gotta Give / Young at Heart / It’s Magic / The Tender Trap / My Foolish Heart / Three Coins in the Fountain / Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing / That’s Amore / Que Sera, Sera / All the Way

Franz Waxman: A Place in the Sun – Suite

Scott Bradley: Tom and Jerry at MGM

Miklós Rósza: Ben-Hur / Suite