What a pleasure to hear the John Wilson Orchestra in their Rodgers and Hammerstein Prom, which I heard on television. John Wilson’s arrangements are simply spellbinding. His hand-picked orchestra, with many individually distinguished musicians playing in it, reminded me of the old joke that ‘the ideal orchestra would have Jascha Heifetz as its leader.’ ‘No, it wouldn’t’, comes the response. ‘The ideal orchestra would have Jascha Heifetz sitting on the back desk of the second violins, because everyone else would be better!’
This time last year I was in ecstasies about John Wilson’s MGM Musicals Prom, and if I wasn’t quite so bowled over this year it was only because the repertoire was restricted to the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, which doesn’t strike me as quite so inventive. How can I say that, when their partnership was the most successful in the history of American musical theatre? Their songs are loved and have been effortlessly memorised by half the world. And yet to me the songs which Rodgers wrote with lyricist Lorenz Hart are more delicious and piquant than his work with Oscar Hammerstein. Rodgers and Hammerstein play with a straight bat, I feel. I like them for it, but occasionally I miss a bit of musical topspin.