Friday Night Classics: Ol’ Blue Eyes

City of Birmingham Symphony OrchestraJohn Wilson-Conductor Gary Williams-Vocalist

What a wonderful way to start the weekend, a superb orchestra, brilliant vocalist and conductor plus a venue second to none. Well that’s how it was on Friday night at Symphony Hall when Gary Williams was once again the guest singer with the enormous City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It was also good to welcome back John Wilson the young musical director who has probably done more than anyone to keep the American Song Book in performance whether through recordings or in concert performance. In a new programme of music from the best of the easy listening catalogue of the 20th Century we were treated to just over 2 hours of matchless vocalising and the finest of instrumental playing that the capacity audience just loved and even clamoured for more when it was time to end!

It is rare to hear this size of orchestra playing the music associated with Frank Sinatra and given the original arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins etc and fresh arrangements for all the instruments of the CBSO the sound achieved was magical. Symphony Hall is the perfect venue for this kind of show and the sound balance on the night was perfect. Unless you have heard it first hand it is difficult to comprehend just how all encompassing that sound is. I have never heard the equivalent on a CD and this is why these concerts are so popular and with such a wide age group too.

All of Gary’s vocals were excellent and the added bonus of a large brass section on “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, vibrant percussion on “I’ve Got the World on a String” and even the harp played so gently by Robert Johnson for “Swingin’ Down the Lane” not to mention Mark Crooks on alto sax for the classic “I Get a Kick Out of You”, lifted these performances to a level that was exceptional. After the interval came even more with great trombone work and strings on Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and Matt Skelton doing the honours on his drum kit for “Cheek to Cheek”. And so the evening continued with superb song after superb song including the saloon favourite “One for My Baby” with beautiful piano from Andrew Potting until we sadly reached the official end of the concert with “Mt Kinda Town”. But clearly the audience had no intention of letting things end there and back Gary came with “New York, New York” and finally a perfect reading of “My Way” still as fresh as the day it was written and still as emotionally powerful. A fitting end to a purely magical evening.

Look out for more of the CBSO, Friday Night Classics that take you on a journey through the popular classics and the finest of contemporary music from the 20th Century. And let’s keep our fingers crossed for an early return of Gary Williams and John Wilson.

Clive Fuller for Encore Magazine

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