Movie Night by the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra


Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at Elgar Concert Hall ****

After a sell-out appearance the previous week in Shrewsbury, and a children's matinée here before the evening concert, one could hardly accuse the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra of lacking rehearsal. Indeed, the opening segue of Alfred Newman's 20th Century Fox fanfare and John Williams' Star Wars almost lifted you out of your seat, with its eye-watering brass, chirruping woodwind and rich, fulsome strings. This high-octane stuff surely won't be sustained throughout the whole programme, I thought – but it was.
And that's the problem with film music: it's excellent at grabbing attention and setting a mood, but less so at maintaining interest.
Fortunately conductor Richard Laing did his best to steer clear of the merely formulaic (Alan Menken's Beauty and Beast overture and Shostakovich's 1951 written-to-order Assault on Beautiful Gorky – Samantha Ward the doughty solo pianist – were the exceptions) to give us examples of true distinction. Notable among these were Elmer Bernstein's Magnificent Seven suite, it's sweeping main theme gloriously spacious; the end credits music from Independence Day (David Arnold), which Laing persuasively described as "a great score in search of a decent movie"; and Korngold's suite from King's Row, with fanfares like pre-echoes of Star Wars and gentle moments (lovely eloquent string-playing) of a warmth and sincerity far greater than the workmanlike note-spinning heard elsewhere.
But the best single work – and a properly rewarding vehicle for Samantha Ward – was Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue which, although not written for the screen, has often been heard in films. Here it sounded terrific, from Alastair Moseley's opening clarinet glissando, and Ward's glittering pianism enlivened with elastic rubatos and improvisational freedom, to the BPO's quite brilliant support which, notably in trumpet and woodwind sections, had all the raunchiness of a Harlem jazz band. What a treat it was.

David Hart

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