REVIEW: Worthing Symphony Orchestra

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Worthing Symphony Orchestra - Classic British Film Scores concert: Julian Leaper (violin), Richard Hills (Organ) Chris Shrimpton (chromatic harmonica), John Gibbons (conductor) at Assembly Hall

Has anyone had as much fun and entertainment at a WSO concert? Musicians performing or audience members listening, the verdict was probably a pretty unanimous ‘No!’. Artistic director John Gibbons is often explosively rocketing WSO audiences’ awareness of the rewards of hearing film music away from the visual distraction of the big screen. There’s so much variety and colour of mood, texture, emotion, atmosphere, dynamics, instrumentation, technique, and virtually everything else.

Once every couple of years Gibbons leaves the classical concert hall scores at home and brings in his books of classical film scores. And with so many ingredients of music and personnel on show, this was emphatically the most successful such concert yet.

Three soloists extended the dimensions and scope, and likewise the WSO themselves. WSO principal trumpet Timothy Hawes had a busier afternoon than normal, frequently rewarding the listener with much subtle and lyrical tone shading. And percussionists Robert Millet and Chris Blundell were as happy pigs in you-know-what, with so many different things to beat, bash and crash.

Their best time of all came near the end when Gibbons’ programming pack of cards delivered its joker as an ace. Just when audience stamina was reaching its limit, he sprang on them the irresistible five-movement Belles of St Trinians, the Comedy Suite by the utterly brilliant Malcolm Arnold. It’s understated subtitle is Exploits for Orchestra. And sheer musical mayhem ensued on stage.

The audience simply lapped it up and had scarcely regained breath when Gibbons plunged them into the throes of The Battle of Britain as his finale. The air shuddered, the floor trembled as the bass pedals of Europe’s largest Wurlitzer Organ simulated the rumbling thrust of Lancaster bomber engines hoisting a squadron airborne with an escort of Spitfire fighters. It was Eric Coates’ Dambusters March with astonishing young organist Richard Hills literally ‘winging it’ in an unscored continuo role of his own without any music. It was The Dambusters as never heard here before.

When Gibbons had to ditch two William Alwyn pieces from Swiss Family Robinson for digital technical reasons, Hills stepped into the breach to improvise his own tune selection from Ivor Novello’s The Dancing Years. He might just as easily have been extemporising as the congregation waltzed out of church on Palm Sunday. Again, with no music: organists don’t need to keep a score.

Hills last year in his BBC Proms solo debut let loose the Hurculean Royal Albert Hall organ in the way that celebrity organists such as Anton Bruckner had done over the centuries and at the Assembly Hall Wurlitzer, his clever choice of red socks not only matched the keyboard stops across its four manuals, but enabled the audience, seated behind him, to follow his feet around the pedals seen under the bench.

Tastefully spotlit, he earlier played solo Ron Goodwin’s Luftwaffe March The Battle of Britain, and later Arthur Bliss’ March ‘Things to Come’. Hills’ sense of humour with some of the novelty organ voices got the chuckles going, especially in the Novello, and his quartet of shawms clinched his role with a deftly authentic touch in William Walton’s Suite from Richard III.

Gibbons was excelling himself with top-form jokes and quips in some of his spoken introductions to prepare the scene and he introduced a friend and near-neighbour, Chris Shrimpton ,who on the same chromatic harmonica as used by Larry Adler and Stevie Wonder, he soloed on Adler’s Suite from the 1950s cinema smash Genevieve. For the jaunty music for a story about family capers on the London to Brighton Veteran car run, Shrimpton dressed in appropriate Sunday-best casual white flannels, and navy blazer with elbow patches.

A film music concert cannot deliver the deeper emotional kicks you get from great classical works but two composers provided some concentrated reflection, thoughtfulness and significant romantic sentiment. Geoffrey Burgon’s piquant wind and brass sound pervaded the six sections of his Brideshead Variations, and from the preciously-gifted Nigel Hess (great nephew of Dame Myra), we were treated to his Suite from ‘Ladies In Lavender’.

Here, WSO leader Julian Leaper ensured us a touchingly beautiful account of ‘Ladies’. Such an unshowy violinist, he does not divert us with anything visually intrusive or over-demonstrative. He always simply articulates the music so that it speaks for itself.

The next of these all-film score concerts will in the season after next.

Rabiga Dyussembayeva brings her exciting pianism to The Denton on May 9 (6.45pm) for the next Worthing Symphony Society presentation of an Interview Concert. The Kazakh who took second prize behind Poom Prommachart in the 2013 Sussex International Piano Competition in Worthing will play Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt and Medtner in a programme she is calling Fairy Tale Carnaval.

Then on May 25 comes yet another landmark visit by increasingly worldwide celebrity violinist Nicola Benedetti - this time in trio with her Leonard Elschenbroich (cello) and Alexei Grynyuk (piano) in Beethoven’s big-boned and multi-faceted Triple Concerto. This triumvirate sold out on the first morning of booking their 2012 Prom at Cadogan Hall. Benedeti is now touring India with the BBC Scottish SO.

There will also be Beethoven’s stern, then liberating Egmont Overture, Faure’s now famous and langorous Pavane, and Bizet’s champagne Symphony in C will uncork the summer. Tickets for both these concerts at 01903 206 206 or the Worthing Theatres website.

Bookings start on May 25 for next season. Dates: September 14 (Songs of the Sea), October 13 (October delights), November 9 (Remembrance Sunday with Poom Prommachart), January 4 (Viennese New Year), February 15 (Valentine’s with Arta Arnicane, piano), March 8 (Spring Awakenings with Laura van der Heijden, cello), April 19 (3rd Sussex International Piano Competition, Concerto Final), June 7 (Brahms and Benedetti: you-know-who giving us you-know-which concerto).

I doubt any of these Gibbons programmes will be missable.

Richard Amey