Strictly Mantovani

Once again it was time to go to Bournemouth for the Magic of Mantovani concert at the Pavilion Theatre on Sunday 28 April 2019. This was the ninth one in the series but one with a couple of differences. The conductor scheduled to take the concert, Benjamin Pope, was indisposed at the last minute with an ear infection; however, he quickly asked Tim Henty to take over the baton just 24 hours before the show was due to start.

To those in the know, excepting Mr. Pope, of course, it was a question of whether or not Mr. Henty would know the music. Would he be able to interpret it properly? Would he have the charisma to carry it off at such short notice? All these queries were quickly answered when Tim took the orchestra for the opening number, Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance no 5” which was played with aplomb. Our new conductor was right into the music, so to speak, bristling, spring-heeled, swaying, in command. What a relief!

He told the capacity audience that his father, who was present at the concert, lived in Burton Road, very close to where Mantovani had his home at “Greensleeves.” As a child, he would sometimes hear Mantovani’s music on the radio. In paying tribute to Monty’s long serving principal arranger Cecil Milner you soon realised that Tim was putting the audience at ease, and that everything was going to be OK. And it was. Indeed, the overall feeling after the show was that he was one of the best conductors we have had during the series of concerts celebrating the memory of Mantovani and his music.

The “Theme from Limelight” introduced us to the “cascading strings” and then we enjoyed a fine version of “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” with two percussionists, Paul Barrett and Dave Osland. A blast from the past was “Goldfinger” which featured a lively brass section and vocals by Jemma Truss, then we moved on to “Reverie”, a piece written by Angela Morley for the solo violin of leader Geoff Allan. This was beautifully played and earned enthusiastic applause, even though Mantovani never played it himself. The Italian favourite “Catari, Catari” was sung capably in Italian by Rossano Sal, followed by “Lonely Ballerina”, a million seller for Mantovani in the 1950s, and “Blue Tango” in which two dancers, Nuno and Rebecca Fernandes, excelled. By now you will have realised that the show had a dancing theme to it, with the dancers appearing at the front of the stage during several of the numbers, performing gracefully without drawing attention away from the music.

Concert pianist Sam Hanson displayed his many talents on Delibes’ “Naila Waltz”, accompanied by the orchestra, before Paul Barrett offered up an interesting vibraphone solo called “Left Bank 2”, the tune being immediately recognisable even if the title wasn’t! An early version of “When the Lilac Blooms Again” was simply marvellous with the big screen above the stage showing appropriately spring lilac, reminding us that summer was just around the corner. The first half closed with Mike Lovett’s fine trumpet solo at the front of the stage on “What Kind of Fool am I?” and Mantovani’s own dramatic composition “Piccolo Bolero.”

The second half began with something rather different: a virtuoso display by the four man Budapest Cafe Orchestra, two of whose members, accordionist Eddie Hession and guitarist Adrian Zolotuhin, formed part of the 48 piece Magic of Mantovani Orchestra. Ten minutes of authentic gypsy music from Austria, Hungary and Romania were rapturously received before the full Orchestra responded with the Strauss Viennese opus “Tritsch Tratsch Polka”. A quintessential Mantovani arrangement of “Summer Night” was stunning, and the “My Fair Lady” medley of three numbers from the award winning show was much admired. Another highlight was the gorgeous “Song of India”, complete with turbaned percussionist and an introductory gong operated by Dave Osland in full Indian regalia setting the scene. There was room, too, for pianist Sam to deliver the lovely Chopin “Valse Brillante” and another orchestral reply to the Budapest quartet in the stirring “Gypsy Carnival” before the lilting “Blue Mantilla” made its graceful entrance, with its two beautiful themes revealing just what a fine composer Mantovani was.

“Well Did You Evah?” from Cole Porter’s “High Society” was a splendid vehicle for singers Jemma and Rossano before the dramatic “Deserted Ballroom” by Morton Gould highlighted all elements of the orchestra in what is truly an exhilarating piece of music not often heard these days. The first of two encores was the “Mexican Hat Dance” with the brass section hand clapping and the conductor stomping with his foot at appropriate moments. Finally, a lovely version of Mantovani’s signature tune “Charmaine” brought the concert to a successful climax. A wonderful time was had by all with the enthusiastic applause recognising the hard work of Paul Barrett in bringing this wonderful music, sponsored by Poole Audi, flooding back to us. The Mantovani family and friends were present in strength and Simon Mott, Paula Mantovani’s son, gave us his customary urbane address from the front of the stage, reminding us all that we were part of the “Mantovani family.”

-Colin MacKenzie

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