Prom 22: A Celebration of Classic MGM Musicals, John Wilson Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday 03 August 2009
Imagine the soundtracks of your best beloved MGM musicals after an auditory steam-clean; better yet, imagine being there in the moment of recreation and hearing the crack MGM Symphony put through its paces, a saturation of swooning strings, mellow trombones, saxes, and a bevy of gleaming trumpets, their extravagant vibrato lending the sound an expensive sheen. John Wilson is the man whose keen ears have reconstructed orchestrations thought lost to us for good and whose amazing orchestra has been custom made to deliver the kind of playing that takes you way beyond make-believe. "Technicolour for the ears?" You’d better believe it.
The "MGM Jubilee Overture" gave us the palette, the medley, and spirited us through a handful of "greatest hits" to somewhere over that rainbow. But suddenly we’re boarding the trolley in St. Louis and Kim Criswell is overcoming an opaque microphone to show us how tremulous with excitement she is. Criswell is one of the John Wilson house singers because she has the style, the technique, and the belt notes to make us sit up. Her "Get Happy" was as second-nature as Garland’s but completely her own and her moments of "homage" to Celeste Holm in "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?" were so spot on as to be uncanny. She was joined there by Seth MacFarlane whose super-smooth delivery was something akin to a cross between Sinatra and Crosby - and a touch of Kelly, too, as he flaunted "Singing in the Rain" to a row of promenaders' umbrellas.
Then there was jazzer Curtis Stigers who offered a passable vocal double for all those great hoofers and pulled off a sly and effortless "Well, Did You Evah?" with MacFarlane. And where would Hollywood be without the "legit" voices - soprano Sarah Fox delicious in "Wonderful, Wonderful Day" from Seven Brides and Thomas Allen bringing his inimitable heart and understanding to numbers like "Lover, Come Back to Me".
But it was the John Wilson Orchestra’s evening. There isn't a band this size on the planet that can swing so nimbly through the dance break of "Steppin' Out With My Baby", power with such panache through the "Barn Dance" from Seven Brides (replete with random yeehaws), or sweep us away on the rhapsodic strings and euphoric descanting horns of Conrad Salinger's incomparable arrangement of "Heather on the Hill". I should mention ace first trumpet Mike Lovatt who was often on his feet where he belonged. In the words of the Cole Porter song: "You're Sensational".
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