Last night, I stupidly didn’t watch the first part of the MGM Film Musicals Prom on television, and only turned on for the second half. I’m so used to concerts of this kind being slightly embarrassing; orchestras often sound uncomfortable with the idiom, and there’s an awkward air about the proceedings which I’m often glad to avoid.
What a wonderful surprise I got when I heard the John Wilson Orchestra last night. I have no idea who they really were, but listening to them reminded me of the tales of Hollywood’s great days, when some of Europe’s finest instrumentalists – many of them émigrés to the United States – let loose the full might of their talent on rich and complex film scores which offered them plenty of scope. The Proms information referred only to John Wilson’s orchestra being ‘hand-picked’, which it most certainly was. John Wilson has undertaken the task of restoring some lost MGM orchestral scores, apparently transcribing them by ear from the original sound recordings, an incredible feat. His orchestra sounded like a bunch of hungry lions who had finally been given their favourite meat.
‘Joyful’ was the word which kept coming to mind, and I only wished I had thought to record the whole thing – which I hope will be repeated as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can ‘listen again’ on Radio 3 for the next week.