When was the last time you saw a French Horn player bursting onstage in a Superman costume? Unless I'm missing something, it's a relatively rare occurrence. This stunt marked a light-hearted nod to film superheroes the end of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's "Heroes and Superheroes" concert at Portsmouth's Guildhall – the second of a four-date tour around the South West. But to focus on that crowd-pleasing moment is to forget the delicious tastes of film music that the orchestra brought to life in the musical equivalent of full technicolour, with a couple of video game themes thrown in for good measure.

© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

A concert of music originally composed for film is no longer a novelty, and as the BSO has previously told Bachtrack, some argue that film scores can be "good symphonic music" in their own right, deserving of the concert hall. There's no need to think too deeply about purpose of this concert though: at the end of half term, with a line-up of famous film titles on the programme, the audience had simply come to be entertained. You didn't need a very long attention span either – a full symphony orchestra, but nothing like the complexity or duration of a symphonic work. The BSO strode confidently through five decades of cinema, playing tunes that summarised the most acclaimed "heroic" storylines, from Ron Goodwin's proud Squadron 633 theme of 1964, to action movies of the 21st century.

This is not Principal Conductor Kirill Karibits' standard repertoire. Instead, guest Pete Harrison took the baton. He was thoroughly at home and succeeded in infecting the concert hall with his enthusiasm. Having said the audience were there for entertainment, that doesn't mean every piece was instantly recognisable, hum-along fare. The opening work, from John Williams' score for Summon the Heroes, was a gorgeous revelation. An early lyrical trumpet solo was spine-chilling, while the rest of the orchestra sprung immediately into gear, building to a thrilling conclusion with the Parade.

With 21 pieces of differing length, emotion and style to get through, the BSO deserve praise for both stamina and flexibility. They seamlessly jumped between all-out dramatic terror, soppy love and adventure. No composer was explored in depth, and no theme or emotion given very long to develop. There was no obvious musical progression in the programme, little to explore the influence of open composer upon another; it was the sum of its parts. But what good parts they were. The orchestra played evocatively, quickly manipulating our emotions toward each mood – you could visualise Laurence of Arabia himself during Maurice Jarre's wistful yet dramatic theme, and the daring escapades of The Great Escape were illustrated in a characterful performance of Elmer Bernstein's subtle but purposeful theme.

Though the excellent brass section enjoyed more than their fair share of fortissimo finales, the section that had the busiest night was the percussion. To give just a few examples, Lalo Schifrin's Mission Impossible, with its infamous 5/4 main theme, called for drum kit and marimbas, while a suite from a Shrek video game frequently employed chimes. The video game scores worked least well in the concert hall setting, lacking the depth or memorable melodies of the rest of the programme. Another less successful result was a brief orchestration of Bryan Adams' record-breaking chart hit "Everything I Do, I Do It For You", from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Sharing the tune between strings and horns, it couldn't escape being saccharine. Using a keyboard to create a synthetic choir in music from Hans Zimmer's Gladiator, as well as bagpipe sounds in Howard Shore's Scotland-inspired Ironfoot music from The Hobbit, did not sound good. But it was understandable given the practicalities of hiring in either real life for just a few bars of music.

Overall, Gladiator was one of the most successful renditions. Zimmer's stirring score is breathtaking, and the BSO did it justice, achieving a rounded, well textured sound from a sweeping string theme to urgent rhythmic sections. Refreshingly, it ended not with a bang but with a calm, restful chord. Zimmer wears Wagner's influence on his sleeve in parts of this score, and careful listeners will have heard the seeds of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. Indeed, Harrison even pointed this out to the audience, in one of frequent informal addresses from the podium. Another highlight was John Williams' Schindler's List theme, ever haunting and beautiful (however many times it is played), with leader Amyn Merchant ably performing the violin solo from his seat – this gave a humble, intimate air to a tune from the most poignant of films.

In contrast, Williams' Superman (lots of Williams was inevitable tonight) was a rousing finish, before a romping Thunderbirds encore. Maybe it's surprising there were only two John Barry works – the classic Zulu among them – but equally it was good to make space for others, such as Randy Edelman's poetic Dragonheart. On the one hand, this type of performance doesn't do a great deal to plumb the lesser heard, varied depths of film music, or even to display the inventiveness and complexity within an entire film-length score. Big names, familiar tunes, with not many exceptions. I doubt it will persuade the audience to listen to programmes they may be less familiar with, or those lacking the same instant gratification. On the other hand, this was a departure from the BSO's usual orchestral repertoire; the point was to put together an entertaining compilation of great film music and get people to an orchestral concert to hear it. It exemplified how the most successful film composers have harnessed symphonic musical tools and elements from contemporary popular music to hook audiences, and paint pictures – even without video. It proved that the emotional immediacy and sheer volume of a live orchestra, especially in a relatively intimate venue, wins out against listening on YouTube. It set out to give a first-class rendition of pieces to be truly enjoyed – written by some of the great masters of their specialist art. Judging by that criteria alone, the BSO cannot be faulted. They delivered an emotionally charged, musically precise and unashamedly populist performance that left everyone smiling.