Rodgers, Hammerstein and Hart can continue to rest easy with their music under the baton of John Wilson. Wilson’s constant energy and jubilant personality actuated his orchestra and vocalists into delivering an exemplary and thoroughly entertaining performance in Nottingham.
This was the sixth of twelve performances on their current tour, ‘A Celebration of Rodgers And Hammerstein and Rodgers And Hart’. Vocalists Sir Thomas Allen, Annalene Beechey, Kim Criswell and Julian Ovenden joined them to perform hit musical songs. They performed pleasurable solos and duets, before ‘ending’ the performance with a full company number (‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’ from Carousel).
The orchestra rightly started the night with the overture of Oklahoma!, probably the most well-known of all Rodgers And Hammerstein musicals. John Wilson immediately took control of the orchestra, and indeed of the concert hall. The orchestra showed off their phenomenal instrumental skills with polished rhythms, controlled dynamics and did not put a tone out of place.
Then on walked a dapper dark-haired tenor, Julian Ovenden, who gave a believable performance of the crowd-favourite, ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’’. Oh, what a beautiful voice. He followed up that solo later with a heartfelt rendition of ‘Younger Than Springtime’ from South Pacific. Finally I was pleased to see him perform not another ballad, but an upbeat, jazzed-up, Sinatra version of ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’ from Jumbo.
Annalene Beechey joined Julian onstage to sing ‘People Will Say We’re In Love’, which was sung admirably, however Annalene’s higher register often sat feebly alongside the powerful orchestra and her fellow singer. Nevertheless, her subtle soprano voice blended well with Kim Criswell’s voice later in ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair’. I could not help but compare her performances of ‘Falling In Love With Love’ and ‘I Have Confidence’ with Sierra Boggess’ charismatic, operatic versions of them, however I did enjoy the sincere and dainty manner in which she delivered the latter.
Kim Criswell sure can deliver a big jazz number, competing with the loud, brassy trumpets in ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, but in later solos she proved to be a versatile actress and alto. Her comedic performance of ‘To Keep My Love Alive’ from A Connecticut Yankee, with her effortless vocal slides, sparked roaring laughter from the audience. As well as this, her sensuous tones in ‘Little Girl Blue’ from Jumbo brought thoughtful silence to the stands. This number was made extra special by the delicate harp, solo horn and flutes. The duet of the night was Kim and Julian’s performance of ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’ (Babes In Arms), as they performed it with such a glowing fondness for their profession.
Sir Thomas Allen gave profound and heartfelt performances of ‘This Nearly Was Mine’, from South Pacific, and ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, but it was his performance of ‘Come Home’ (Allegro) that spoke to me the most. The soft tones in his higher register created a sense of vulnerability, while maintaining good pitch control.
John Wilson devotes a lot of time to the orchestra in his programs, enabling them to demonstrate their full capabilities. Having heard them perform ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’ (On Your Toes) at the Proms, I was excited to see it appear at the end of the first half. Andrew Haveron (lead violinist) performed a charming, clean solo of the first theme, while the five-woodwind players on the back row traded their usual instruments for saxophones to lead the jazzier theme. Other instrumentals included ‘The Carousel Waltz’ and the main title of ‘The Sound of Music’. The brass, kit and percussion brought vibrant character and sound to every number, while the strings and woodwind elegantly held every song together.
Thunderous applause followed the full company number and after some thankful bows, John Wilson encouraged the audience to sing along in the notorious encore, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from Carousel. The audience responded with enthusiasm, uniting with the performers to sing and hear this last song in stereo.