A packed Royal Albert Hall was treated to no less than seventeen works written and inspired by Ira and George Gershwin, in addition to three encores. Prommers were dancing in the centre of the Arena whilst others swayed and clicked in time to the array of smooth and smoky jazz and vivacious big band numbers.

John Wilson conducts the John Wilson Orchestra © BBC|Chris Christodoulou
John Wilson conducts the John Wilson Orchestra
© BBC|Chris Christodoulou

John Wilson and his orchestra opened the concert with the "Overture" to the 1945 film Rhapsody in Blue, stylishly bringing out the well-known melodies appearing within, such as "Fascinating Rhythm" which was the ideal glitzy and glamorous opening to this fast-paced concert. John Wilson’s command of all on stage was something to marvel. Not only was his waltz around the podium highly entertaining, the little dips and flicks of the baton were dance like and all commands for sudden dynamic changes were indicated by Wilson crouching down on the podium and coming up the same speed he wanted the crescendo. The most fascinating part of his performance was his tendancy to leave singers to their own devices. The musicians were simply charming and full of energy as they took the audience back to the days of Gene Kelly whisking Leslie Caron around a fountain in the famous dance scene at the climax of An American in Paris, the 1951 musical film for which Gershwin wrote the soundtrack.

Louise Dearman © BBC|Chris Christodoulou
Louise Dearman
© BBC|Chris Christodoulou

The soloists for the evening were three British singers, Louise Dearman, Matthew Ford and Julian Ovenden. Dearman, playing up to the cameras, was warm and entertaining as she captured the essence of the 1940s Hollywood star in Gershwin’s "Treat Me Rough" with a convincing American accent, acting each piece throughout the concert with poise. Ford continued proceedings with a suave "You’d Be Hard To Replace" with the band gently swelling beneath Ford’s smooth tones. Ovenden joined proceedings for a stern "I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise" from the soundtrack to the film An American in Paris. Ovenden’s French was unconvincing and did not follow suit with an American accent which affected the Hollywood theme, while his upper notes were strenuous. However, Ovenden and Ford’s pairing for "Babbitt and the Bromide" which featured general chit-chat set to different styles of music was comic and well acted. Ford’s impressive whistling section in "‘S Wonderful" thrilled the audience, by which time the constant imbalance in microphones had been altered.

One of the strongest features of the programming was the pace of proceedings. There were minimal pauses between pieces and big band numbers were coupled with wistful musical interludes and solos as respite from the high-octane numbers from full orchestra. The timing of getting the Maida Vale Singers on stage could have been smoother and more efficient as that was the only part of the concert where the audience were left waiting, but in good taste, Wilson struck up the band with the introduction before half the choir were on stage. The female chorus were charming and engaged with the band and the soloists. They embraced the style of the era and reacted well to the band and soloists.

Maida Vale Singers © BBC|Chris Christodoulou
Maida Vale Singers
© BBC|Chris Christodoulou

"Fascinating Rhythm" was a highlight of the performance. Instrumental soloists were in the spotlight with every jazz improvisation truly felt. The band provided a welcoming atmosphere by adding comic elements and thoroughly enjoying their solos. The trumpet section shone as it stood for its solo, with players moving their bowler hats as they played.

The entire ensemble performed two encores including "Applause, Applause" by Burton Lane and Ira Gershwin which included syncopated clapping between the band and audience and the band shouting. An ideal end to a superb concert.