CBSO: The Magic of MGM

Reviewed at Birmingham Symphony Hall, Birmingham by By Christopher Morley for the Birmingham Post.

In the glory days of MGM film musicals, the studios had the best of everything: accomplished composers, brilliant orchestrators who could make the most dazzling arrangements, expert conductors and the finest orchestral musicians, and, of course, the cream of singers, actors and dancers. And on Friday night some of MGM’s greatest highlights had the best of performances, a packed and enthusiastic Symphony Hall audience relishing a CBSO playing with immense style and flair (lovely to see the brass standing for their spots, and flourishing their instruments), conducted by the elegant, enthusiastic and persuasive John Wilson – such a friendly compere, too.But attention must also be drawn to fabulous contributions from the CBS Chorus and the lively, vibrant City of Birmingham Young Voices. Part of the magic of MGM escapism was the house-style writing for angelic choirs, women vocalising wordlessly while the men provided sturdy, feel-good underlines, and here the singers were obviously enjoying themselves. Earnest Vaughan Williams one weekend, sumptuous ear-candy last weekend. Respect.

Kim Criswell, always a favourite here, is gracious rather than rip-roaring nowadays, whilst still maintaining her charismatic stage-presence. Her “Trolley Song” and “Ten Cents a Dance” were treasures among many.

Partnering her was Gary Williams, especially light and lyrical in “The Heather on the Hill”.

There were many orchestral gems, including a Bridal Procession from Kismet deftly orchestrated to sound like Petrushka (and therefore reminding me of the vivid account of that score from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Barry Wordsworth in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Stravinsky triple-bill on Thursday evening).

And John Wilson? Simply a conductor of great distinction and personality. I want to hear him in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony – honestly.