REVIEW: Family Film & Sport Concert

SUNDAY’S sell-out concert was a resounding triumph for conductor John Gibbons, his orchestra and its followers.

His imaginative programming brought two national celebrities to the Worthing Symphony Orchestra concert season, world renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber as soloist, and top BBC sports presenter John Inverdale as narrator in one of the pieces.

People were turned away at the door for what developed into an unspoken celebration of the Borough Council decision to continue the Assembly Hall in the entertainment roles for which it was commissioned and designed.

The WSO are on top of the Worthing World.

Inverdale, who has a residence just down the coast, introduced the beginning of the concert and later wrapped it up, both times drawing the attention of the audience to Gibbons’ untiring work in keeping the orchestra performing through the economically challenging recent years.

Later, Inverdale narrated Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra – in which the composer singles out and introduces each orchestral section of instruments.

Inverdale revealed to me had not performed this narration before. He was appearing in Worthing for the first time since his 1990s visits, to host at Worthing Football Club an edition of BBC Radio 5 Live’s Any Sporting Questions and in 1999 to introduce BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night from this same ideal Assembly Hall venue.

Lloyd Webber told me before the performance that, after the necessarily brief morning rehearsal of the Delius Cello Concerto, he realised the near-perfect acoustic of the Assembly Hall would bring this little-known but beautiful and rhapsodic music closer to its new audience.

He said also that this was the first time he had played it live since 1982, which would have followed his critically lauded recording with late lamented conductor Vernon Handley.

Delius is one of Lloyd Webber’s passions.

As well as being president of the Elgar Society, the 61-year-old younger brother of Andrew Lloyd Webber is vice-president of the Delius Trust, which supported this performance.

It was taking place ahead of Lloyd Webber’s forthcoming one at the Royal Festival Hall with Sir Andrew Davis and the Philharmonia Orchestra on January 29 — the 150th anniversary of Delius’ birth in Bradford. This will be the first time Lloyd Webber has worked with Sir Andrew.

Lloyd Webber signed CDs for the buying audience during the interval after playing a piece Gibbons advised the audience to listen to imagining they were chilling out for 25 minutes beside the languidly running river at the bottom of Delius’ garden in his French home of Grez-sur-Loing.

The music was sketched there by Delius and completed in England just before illness permanently paralysed his writing hand.

Gibbons told how he had seen that house, garden and river himself as a student.

He is now chairman of the British Music Society and so here were two champions of our national music-making, making that music to a full house in an extremely fortunate provincial British town.

Lloyd Webber, loose white-shirted, thinning locks held back by a headband, took his place in front of the violins and outpoured this uniquely distinctive and emotional music in an almost unbroken flow with the top string of the cello singing an unendingly varied song of not only England but France, Germany, Norway and Florida.

Delius was much-travelled before his French final years. Cosmopolitan the man, cosmopolitan his remarkable and once-heard, then unforgettable sound.

Many listeners will be haunted by the latter pages where the cello was joined peacefully by Rachel Ingleton’s cor anglais and Julia Thornton’s harp, which glistened golden, centre-stage just behind the soloist.

Gibbons themed a cosmopolitan afternoon to Family Film with a Pirates of the Caribbean medley arranged by Ted Ricketts from the German Klaus Badelt’s score, and, from the USA, John Williams’ symphonic suite of his Harry Potter themes.

Sport was strongly present. Lloyd Webber supports Leyton Orient FC. Gibbons is a Wolves fan. Franz Lehar’s Gold & Silver Waltz was chosen, Gibbons said, to reflect the colours of Great Britain’s hoped-for Olympic medal haul this year.

There was also the Skaters’ Waltz by Émile Waldteufel, Johan Strauss II’s Jockey Fast Galop, featuring the percussion section’s whip (carefully not exceeding the new horse racing regulation jockey usage), and Rossini’s William Tell Overture —rarely performed here — doffed the apple-topped cap to archery.

The Match of The Day theme, an English soccer institution, was composed, fans may be disenchanted to hear, by 1960s pop guitarist Rhet Stoller — a Londoner sounding definitively German.

It was arranged here by Nicholas Hare, coincidentally a chorister Gibbons conducts at St Albans, and the WSO played it to curtain-up Inverdale before the exciting grand finale of the Britten.

This new-look New Year Concert by Gibbons broke the Viennese mould and trumped the audience attendance at any such WSO concert of recent years.

Here on February 12, he conducts the highly talented Worthing Youth Prom orchestra in Brahms and Karl Jenkins with contralto Robin Bier, and other WSO concerts follow on March 4 (Saint-Saens’ Carnival of The Animals and Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, with symphonies by Schubert and Prokofiev), with two more attractive programmes on April 22 and May 26.

Review by Richard Amey

Family Film & Sport Concert, Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), John Inverdale (narrator), John Gibbons (conductor), Assembly Hall, Worthing, Sunday, January 8.