MSO Knows Hollywood Score

June 7, 2007 in Reviews

Reviewed at Hamer Hall, Melbourne by Clive O’Connell for The Age.

After just the barest opening nod to more recent film-making through the main title music for Star Wars by John Williams, the remainder of Sunday’s Pops concert, in which the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra took a trip through Hollywood film music, was devoted to scores that were written in the first half of the 20th century.

As conductor John Wilson pointed out, that period was a golden era for musicals as well as film soundtracks, and he gave us ample proof of this claim.

For instance, it made quite a study to juxtapose the bloated Williams score with Erich Korngold’s music for The Sea Hawk , in which each member of an orchestra could probably be conscious of contributing to a rationally organised sound complex instead of being implicated in a fortissimo juggernaut.

Much the same could be heard in pieces that followed, such as David Raksin’s theme for Laura , Franz Waxman’s ever-suggestive score to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and the music Max Steiner rushed to complete for Gone with the Wind.

The guest artist for this nostalgic exercise that clearly brought back happy memories for those in my section of Hamer Hall was Gary Williams, a personable British light baritone with mastery of the microphone who made few false moves in a sequence of 10 hits ranging from The Heather on the Hill through the Gershwins’ evergreen ‘S Wonderful and on to Singin’ in the Rain. The singer loped through his numbers with minimal stress, enjoying plenty of orchestral interludes while Gene Kelly stopped crooning to splash around the street or Fred Astaire danced on the ceiling.

In fact, Williams’ range is limited in terms of its compass and his delivery is best suited to laid-back swing numbers such as You Were Meant for Me and Almost Like Being in Love. His attempt to summon up a shade of Howard Keel in Bless Your Beautiful Hide sounded at odds with the smooth elegance of Williams’ stage presence. For this year’s exercise, the organisers projected on the hall’s back wall slides of play-bills picturing the various films under treatment. These would have been of singular assistance if singer and chatty conductor had not filled us in at regular intervals about the music presented.

Inclined to point up the obvious and cue the unmissable entry, Wilson has expended – for our pleasure – a huge amount of his energy in resurrecting and often recreating these memorable scores, keeping faith with that group of admirable composer-craftsmen whose splendid manuscripts were often destroyed through neglect or thoughtlessness after Hollywood’s philistine studio heads had finished with them.

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