Conductor: Barry Forgie
Reviewer: David Robinson
Dunkirk and The Battle of Britain, two of the most pivotal moments in World War Two, one on a French beach and the other in the skies above the English Channel, both it would seem worthy of revisiting and celebrating on a regular basis. One was a miraculous naval escape and the other a stunning aerial victory for the Royal Air Force, both in their own significant ways decisive turning points. They are sympathetically covered in this new Fiery Angel Entertainment concert production, remembered in music, song, sounds and speeches of the period. The music is courtesy of the versatile and ever-popular BBC Big Band under the baton of Barry Forgie: their mix of jazz, swing and dance sounds become a brass wall of forties delight. The song is agreeably provided by delightful mezzo-soprano Annie Gill, and the sounds and speeches by television favourite Kevin Whately with occasional contributions from Churchill himself. The recent success of the film Darkest Hour indicates the evergreen popularity of the Churchill era, the Oscar-winning film charts the Prime Minister’s early days in power as the threat of Nazi Germany looms ever larger and darker; this musical trip down memory lane takes us not only to our country’s finest hour but quite possibly to a moment that would define Churchill’s premiership forever. His finest hour.
Without doubt, the finest hour tonight for the BBC Big Band is their Glenn Miller and Dance Band sections. The energy and fun of Moonlight Serenade and American Patrol almost encourage a rather sparsely occupied Symphony Hall audience to be up on their feet jiving in the first half and In the Mood and Sing, Sing, Sing achieve similar enthusiasm in the second half. The BBC Big Band has collaborated with some of the biggest jazz and swing singers in the business and it is no wonder, it effortlessly and joyfully creates a superb and, at times, uproarious big band blast. The trumpet soloist in the tribute to Dame Gracie Fields finds a poignancy and feeling that contrasts beautifully with the rest of the chiefly buoyant and cheerful programme. Annie Gill is touchingly reverent in her tribute to forces sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn, her interpretation of It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow is enchanting. The narration is scripted by Andrew Staples and delivered with consummate ease and polish by Kevin Whately; he is, though, somewhat underused and what is a fairly short evening would benefit from some gentle narrative padding. The rapport between stage and audience is somewhat lacking and perhaps some chat from Whately or from conductor Barry Forgie would be beneficial and would perchance generate a more enthusiastic response to the flag-waving Last Night of the Proms finale.
The big band wall of sound even just for an evening drives the dark clouds far away and gets us all smiling through.
Reviewed on 13 April 2018 | Image: Contributed