John Wilson Orchestra


The John Wilson Orchestra at Symphony Hall ****

Is there anything more delightful than to sit in Symphony Hall
revelling in music from
the golden days of the Hollywood movies?If you happen to be a film
buff like me, the songs and the
scores which encompass them will all be familiar, in fact, as John
Wilson himself recently said during a radio interview,
these melodies are for our generation, and as important to us as
Schubert or Schumann were to 19th century audiences.
Take for example the stunning suite Max Steiner composed for the
1942 Bette Davis, Paul Heinreid movie : "Now Voyager", which
invariably leaves you with a lump in your throat no throat pastille
can cure. When Davis walked down the gangplank of the luxury liner,
transformed from a depressed Boston spinster aunt,
victimised within the wealthy Vale family, into a beautiful, superbly
poised woman of the world ( wearing an elegant hat my mother had
copied by a milliner within days) millions of women in similarly
unhappy circumstances took heart and were inspired by her.
When Wilson put down his baton after this particular piece,
there was a silence for a fraction of a second as the Steiner magic
died away, and then the applause broke out. And it as very much the
same feeling throughout the evening whenever the plush lyrical
themes by the master composers were brought to life.Take Miklos
Rozsa's score made for the Korda masterpiece: "The Thief of Baghdad",
perhaps the finest Arabian Nights movie ever made, with Conrad Veidt
as the wicked vizier Jafar and John Justin as the handsome prince. I
saw the film when I was eight years old--it has never left me, who
else but Wilson
could have found the love theme for the young prince and princess and
orchestrated it so wonderfully well? You listened and there it was
again, the young princess pouring out her heart to the genie reflected
in the pool, which was, of course, Justin whispering his love.
I always hope for the theme from "Gone With The Wind", but this
time we were not so lucky, instead there were much less successful
clips from movies such as"The Band Wagon", "Everybody Sing" ( was that
film worthy of Wilson's time and talent?) and "Thoroughly Modern
Millie", where the only thing I can remembe rfrom that particular film
is Carol Channing's performance as the raucous hoofer who can't tell
emeralds from a 7up bottle but lands a millionaire.
The clip Wilson chose was unexceptional, and in a similar way
the "Girl Hunt" ballet from "The Band Wagon" did not justify his
fervent endorsements.
He did much better with Eric Korngold's score for "The Sea Hawk" with
its sumptuous waves of sound, reflected again in the same composer's
magnificent music for "Robin Hood" (not played at this concert)
Wilson's conducting style is fascinating to watch.
Rudolf Kempe used barely to move a muscle; Wilson, on the other
hand, is highly excitable.
He extends a hand trembling with passion and the strings
respond, he soothes the cellos, points dramatically at the brass or
whips up the whole orchestra into a frenzy of sound as he took us,
arms flailing dramatically into the convent bells which backed up Kim
Criswell singing the well-known Julie Andrews song from "The Sound of
Music" occasionally toning down the "belting" quality for which this
singer is well known. Criswell was a solitary figure in Wilson's
entourage. We were given her voice alone for the whole evening, and
quite frankly some of the delicacy of "People", from Streisand's
"Funny Girl" is not best served with a voice which, at full blast is
loud enough to break Symphony Hall's sound system.
But John Wilson remains one of the foremost custodians of our
fragile contemporary culture and I greatly respect him for that.

Richard Edmonds

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