Nothing heralds the start of the Christmas season more vividly for me than the annual trip to see the John Wilson Orchestra. It’s not the cries of “It’s Christmas” blasting from every supermarket speaker or the switching on of the lights in George Square, but the sound of the orchestra tuning up and those spine-tingling first notes ringing out around the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
This year’s concert That’s Entertainment is a return to the 2009 Prom which took Wilson from respected conductor to worldwide sensation. Eschewing the big names (Seth MacFarlane, Curtis Steigers, Julian Ovenden and Sir Thomas Allen, to name a few) that have peppered previous concerts, he sticks with stalwarts Matthew Ford and Anna-Jane Casey, a pair of sublimely talented singers. Ford, with his magnificently evocative voice brings the era of the Hollywood crooner masterfully back to life and Casey, a gifted actress as well as singer, with the ability and stunning vocal skills to transport you right back to the golden days of the MGM musical.
This perfectly judged and perfectly polished programme opens with the magnificent MGM Jubilee Overture and the skill and talent of the performers and Wilson’s fastidious attention to every detail of this music, shines through from the opening note.
The concert cracks on at a blistering pace, played with exuberance and verve by the breathtakingly talented musicians, from familiar classics such as: “The Lady is a Tramp”, “You Made Me Love You” and “A Couple of Swells” to lesser known gems: “Thanks a Lot But No Thanks” from It’s Always Fair Weather and the little heard score from Silk Stockings, each piece is beautifully executed and designed to delight the audience, an audience I might add who remained entranced throughout each song and moved to rousing applause at each’s conclusion. Most heartening to see was the age range of the sell-out audience, from little children right through to those able to remember this music in its glorious hey-day, through the talent and skill of Wilson and his orchestra these glorious musical classics live on and boy is this audience thankful that it has.
Of the 200 or so shows that I review each year for work, this is one of the few that I look forward to from the moment it’s announced and unlike much of what I see it never disappoints, a pure pleasure and an unalloyed triumph every time. Spirited, soaring, sparkling, sure-footed, sumptuous, vivid, vibrant, witty, well-judged, thrilling and triumphant. Sheer perfection!