The John Wilson Orchestra, At the Movies, St David’s Hall

December 8, 2018 by
My first live experience with John Wilson was when he conducted the LSO at SDH in August this year. The celebration of the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein with a concert version of On the Town at the BBC Proms, holds up as a wonderful musical memory that I’ll never forget. So an opportunity to see them in Cardiff was an event not to be missed.
Here this celebration of the golden age of cinema and movie musicals made for a grand old time. We also got to see the legend that is Kim Criswell give a few renditions of familiar songs from screen and stage. Though the bulk of the evening was made up of Wilson, who conducts with a subtly for his enthusiastic orchestra. There was the typically famous scores that you would expect and also lesser known material which was also of note. The Sea Hawk melody by Korngold is a romp like affair, evoking chivalry and swash bulking themes of the film. Franz Waxman’s soundtrack for The Philadelphia Story is alive with wit, a romance section which is as soupy as much as it’s interesting.
Criswell’s song choices are a crowd pleasing and downright brilliant. Deep in My Heart (or perhaps better known as Under My Skin) from Softly As In A Morning Sunrise is a well known affair, her voice being able to match any style of musical styles. The joy of the musicians as well is the easy going feel, with jazz elements in the scores thanks to the drum kit, jazz double bass and saxophones. The title song from Everybody Sing is another funky treat from Criswell, as her concert opener. A discovery for me was Now, Voyager starring Bette Davis. The story involves mental health and a cruise trip, via doctor’s orders. A shocking love triangle is seen within and the music by Max Steiner drips with a heightened eroticism and exoticism.
Another new venture was The Sandpiper starring Burton and Taylor, with Johnny Mandel doing the composition side of things. This theme would later be turned into the song The Shadow of Your Smile (thanks for a reader spotting an earlier version mistake), but here we got to see lead trumpeter Michael Lovett give a subtle and considered solo. The Girl Hunt from The Band Wagon by Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz was an electric reliving of the grand old days of films which used to feature elaborate ballet sequences. This blistering affront ended the first part of the evening and had memorable vividness and anxious orchestration which held up for most of its length.
Criswell also gave us as an audience what we wanted: People and Don’t Rain On My Parade both from Funny Girl. These classic Streisand ballads she makes her own and whips us up into a frenzy with her vocal talents as one of the finest living Broadway voices. Her Sound of Music is also noteworthy, with her time in this show and her rendition of There’s No Business like Show Business is perhaps her most iconic, as she has also mastered Annie, Get Your Gun! The latter being an encore, I doubt there was anything could top this, as the concert ended with music from E.T. You hear this John Williams score all the time on Classic FM, so it can wear thin, though hearing it live is a different experience.
Another toe tapping, head bobbing night of musical joy.

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