Conductor: Richard Balcombe
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Today, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall pays tribute to the undisputed King of Swing, Frank Sinatra. And who better to lead that tribute than (probably) Britain’s finest crooner, Matt Ford, although, as Ford explains, this isn’t a tribute act, it’s a celebration of Sinatra’s sound – Ford doesn’t try to impersonate Sinatra’s voice or his quirks, he simply sings some of the songs that have become synonymous with Sinatra over his six decades in show business – and he does so very well indeed. With a canon that includes songs by Cole Porter and George Gershwin and arrangements by Nelson Riddle and Billy May, one has an embarrassment of riches from which to choose.
So we find ourselves in the company of the London Concert Orchestra Show Band conducted by Richard Balcombe with Ford sharing singing duties with Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and, as if the iconic swing music alone weren’t enough, brother and sister ballroom dancers, Emma and Chris Burrell.
Sinatra is known, among other things, for his musicality and phrasing; Ford and Hamilton-Barritt similarly demonstrate excellent phrasing as they breathe new life into these songs. Ford’s vocals are effortless, moving from the intimate to hall-filling power as needed. He really knows how to deliver a song, making connections with the audience as he goes with his relaxed brand of understated showmanship, for example, in the reflective I’ve Got a Crush on You which is supported by a less-is-more orchestral arrangement that relies heavily on the piano, before the showstopping finale to the first half, My Way.
Hamilton-Barritt supports Ford in some duets – for example, Somethin’ Stupid and You Make Me Feel So Young. Hamilton-Barritt’s voice is deep and rich, full of fruity tones, evocative at times of Cleo Laine, at others channelling the power of Shirley Bassey or Cher: her voice is especially sultry in So In Love, in which the dancers support with a similarly sultry tango. Hamilton-Barritt also delivers the day’s first showstopper, Cry Me A River, with passion and exquisite phrasing, her jazzy vocal heavy with meaning.
The second half is opened by a version for orchestra of Too Darn Hot, in which the show band is able to shine under Balcombe’s laid-back low-key conducting, allowing each section to shine; there is an especially spectacular instrumental break in Witchcraft.
Further visual stimuli are provided by the poised and elegant Burrells as they dance to, for example, Hamilton-Barritt’s Moon River, S’Wonderful and Ford’s Fly Me to the Moon.
Overall, the concert is heart-warming and forms a worthy tribute to the great Francis Albert: a joy to be part of.
Reviewed on 18 November 2018 and on tour | Image: Contributed