Prom 22: A Celebration of Classic MGM Musicals/ John Wilson Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 05 August 2009
Imagine the soundtracks of your most beloved MGM musicals after an auditory steam-clean. Better yet, imagine being there in the moment of recreation and hearing the crack symphony put through its paces; a saturation of swooning strings, mellow trombones, saxes, and gleaming trumpets. John Wilson is the man who has reconstructed orchestrations thought lost to us and whose orchestra delivers 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 Wilson's 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 Judy Garland's, but completely her own, and her moments of homage to Celeste Holm in "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" were uncanny. She was joined 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 where would Hollywood be without the "legit" voices – soprano Sarah Fox, delicious in "Wonderful, Wonderful Day" from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Thomas Allen bringing his inimitable heart and understanding to numbers such as "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, or sweep us away on the rhapsodic strings and euphoric descanting horns of Conrad Salinger's "The 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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