Oscar Winners: Music from the Academy Awards – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Anthony Gabriele

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Although the Academy Awards were first awarded in 1929, the first award for a movie score wasn’t made until 1935. In 1938, the first score celebrated in this concert – that for The Adventures of Robin Hood scored by Erich Wolfgang Korngold – won. Today, therefore, we celebrate 75 years of Best Musical Scores from then until 2013 when Steven Price’s score for Gravity won. Along the way, we hear samples from a total of 23 winners from a number of genres – including science fiction, romance, animation, epics and historical drama, from composers from all over the world, from France to Austria, Poland to China, Canada to Greece, and, of course, Britain to America.

Good film music supports the action without impinging on it; the best film music can also stand alone and this concert celebrates some of these latter pieces, pieces that have an existence away from the film that spawned them. A fine example, here is Moon River, from Breakfast in Tiffany’s: as the programme notes say, this song has such a life of its own that, “its association with Blake Edward’s cinematic production … is but a footnote”.

Taking us on our tour of award-winning music is the London Concert Orchestra under the baton of Anthony Gabriele. Gabriele conducts fluidly and with gusto, appearing to play the orchestra as a single, huge musical instrument. His gestures and enthusiasm are echoed in the orchestra’s playing which is skilful and mellifluous. And there are super soloists too – for example, leader of the orchestra, Paul Willey, plays the solo from the main theme of Schindler’s List with beauty and delicacy; indeed, such was the quality of his playing on this occasion that Gabriele, when turning to the audience to discuss that and the next piece, had to take a few moments to gather his wits before speaking.

Gabriele is our master of ceremonies today as well as conductor and his enjoyment in the music played is evident both in his movements and discussion, even if his discussion of some of the Oscar-related facts behind the music is a touch stilted.

The concert opens with Lara’s Theme from Dr Zhivago; a piece with a delicate, understated mournful feel, in which the fluidity of Gabriele’s movements is truly echoed in the orchestra’s playing. This is followed by the more menacing theme from Jaws and the pastoral Love Scene – evoking countryside and birdsong – from The Adventures of Robin Hood. Indeed, the concert is full of such contrasts, one moment stirring, even martial, the next upbeat with swing. The Eternal Vow from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is evocative of the Orient as Julia Graham plays the cello solo full of slurs while Impossible Opening from Finding Neverland is perky and childlike. Particularly affecting is Married Life from Up that has moments of real joy woven into its tapestry.

Occasionally, the mood is further enhanced as the orchestra is bathed in rich yellow tones that support the mood, for example, in the main titles from Born Free as we are transported to the African savannah.

The choice of music for this concert is quite inspired, transporting the audience around the world in an instant and allowing us to enjoy the skill of both Gabriele and the London Concert Orchestra. Overall, a great time spent in the company of some great musicians.

Reviewed on 11 May 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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