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Review: John Wilson's Sunday Afternoons with Thomas Allen at the Sage Gateshead

Local lads John Wilson and Thomas Allen put in a wonderful performance in front of a packed Hall One at Sage Gateshead

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Susie Ahlburg Sir Thomas Allen
Sir Thomas Allen

John Wilson’s Sunday Afternoons with Royal Northern Sinfonia and Sir Thomas Allen, Sage Gateshead

The latest in John Wilson’s concert series in a packed Hall One was a very northern English affair.

The Gateshead-born conductor shared top billing with Seaham’s renowned baritone, Sir Thomas Allen, in a celebration of light orchestral music, the staple radio and concert diet of austerity Britain in the mid 20th Century.

Three of the six chosen composers – Delius, Haydn Wood and Sir William Walton – were all true northerners as well.

Many listening will have remembered these wonderful tunes first time around. Some, such as Eric Coates’ evocative Knightsbridge March, theme for the BBC’s long-running radio show, In Town Tonight, remain as part of our musical heritage.

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s jaunty 1870 Overture di Ballo was a forerunner to the style he perfected in his liaisons with WS Gilbert which produced their comic operas.

This ideal concert opener was regarded as the first true light orchestral work, setting the scene for Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring and Coates’ very descriptive Cinderella, A Phantasy for Orchestra, one of four works he based on children’s stories.

Wilson said “the tune was more important than what you did with it”, but the life and vitality in this very English music, reflecting the national spirit of the times, oozed from every note.

Walton’s famous and stirring Crown Imperial, written for the coronation of King Edward VIII but used on the appointed day for his brother George’s, saw the back line of percussion and heavy brass in sparkling form, as were the whole orchestra with Sir Malcolm Arnold’s first set of English dances, a real highlight in a programme packed with them.

Sir Thomas knows his North East audience and he didn’t let it down, providing fine short songs including Dance Ti’ Thy Daddy, and The Last Rose of Summer in the first half.

In the second, in his rich baritone, he served up emotional performances of Haydn Wood’s Roses of Picardy and Coates’ particularly sweet I Heard You Singing.

The icing on the singer’s cake – literally, as he was still wiping the crumbs of a post-performance fancy from his mouth as he came back for the encore – was Bird Songs at Eventide, another delightful song from Coates, a composer better known for his orchestral pieces.

John Wilson wears his strongest suit when championing film and orchestral music from the last century, and his affinity with this was plain to see and hear.

Importantly, there is obviously still a large market for this music.

by Rob Barnes

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