Apart from the slick and witty presentation and stylish singing of Jamie MacDougall, yesterday’s Christmas at the Movies concert would have been a fairly dismal affair.
The BBC SSO sounded tired. Conductor Stephen Bell found himself uncharacteristically drawn to a halt midway through a simple song from Oliver. And was the colourless, wavering American soprano Pamela Hay the best available option to replace the advertised, but indisposed, Charlotte Page?
The result was a mixed bag of performances, in which multi-coloured snippets from such well-known scores as ET, The Empire Strikes Back, Gone with the Wind and Star Wars were rolled out with more routine blandness than is typical of the SSO.
What caused the ragged opening bars of Tara’s Theme from Gone with the Wind, or that disastrous emergency stop in As Long As He Needs Me? Such low moments were in direct contrast to leader Laura Samuel’s sweet, melancholic playing of the theme to Schindler’s List, and the SSO’s more heartily characterful medleys from Gigi and The Bridge over the River Kwai.
The theme was Oscar-winning scores. But some of them didn’t really work in a concert context, such as the guddling Symphonic Suite from The Lord of the Rings. Compare that to the instinctive story-telling qualities of Korngold’s Robin Hood and Rózsa’s Ben Hur.
This was not vintage SSO fare. It is due for future broadcast on Radio 3. I’ll be surprised if that goes ahead unedited.