Performing a programme of American film music spanning 1938 to the late 1975– The Golden Age of Hollywood – the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of José Serebrier displayed musical mastery in moving from full-bodied, adventurous scores to light jazz, concocting images of iconic movie scenes in the audience’s minds all the while.

José Serebrier © Clive Barda
José Serebrier
© Clive Barda
Tommy Pearson provided an intelligent and lightly humorous commentary throughout the evening’s performance, contextualising each musical segment with titbits of filmic history. Appropriately, the concert began with Bernard Herrmann’s Overture to North by Northwest. Pearson hailed Herrmann for classic soundtracks such as Psycho and Taxi Driver, dubbed “New Hollywood”, in addition to his journey from film to film until his sudden death.

In the first half of the concert, the audience was awash with legendary music from the era, with Nino Rota’s The Godfather Suite as a feature of particular interest due to its omnipresent place in western filmic culture. Parla più piano, made famous by Franc D'Ambrosio and its subsequent place in the classical singer’s repertoire, formed part of the Suite and exuded passion and individual flourishes which made the piece feel incredibly Italian amongst the American themed programme. The soloists performing the principal theme played lyrically, in the style of an Italian opera singer, lingering over the most moving parts of the melody. However, the orchestra en-masse were more measured in their interpretation which tended to absorb the passion generated by the soloists.

The most impressive feature of the concert was the RPO’s intelligent and emotive response towards the music throughout the constant shift from one composer, film, genre, to the next, with equal eloquence, stylistic appreciation and understanding given to each. Another highlight was the sound of screeching Psycho strings from Hitchcock’s infamous shower scene coming from the RPO! The brashness of the scoring being realized by such an acclaimed orchestra made the audience chuckle, particularly having just been treated to a vivacious and completely contrasting Gone with the Wind: Tara by Max Steiner. The “wait for it” pause directed by Serebrier before the commotion commenced provided a comic twist to the rendition and detracted from the gruesome scene from which the music originates.

Pianist Roderick Elms joined the 100 strong RPO for Richard Addinsell’s Dangerous Moonlight: Warsaw Concerto. Elms performed with a lightness of touch yet his solo shone through the dense orchestral background to close the first half of the concert. Upon return to the stage, leader Duncan Riddell performed a lustrous opening solo to Miklós Rózsa’s Ben-Hur: Love Theme, Parade of the Charioteers which was smooth and rich with expression. The saxophonist who performed the solitary jazz melody from Herrmann’s Taxi Driver, amongst the ferociously dark colour of the swelling brass and percussion sections, evoked a realistic element in portraying the different neighbourhoods of Scorsese’s New York

As the concert drew to a close, the audience called for more and Serebrier returned to the stage for a riveting encore of Max Steiner’s The Caine Mutiny with the brass in full force throughout the triumphant March.

****1