John Wilson is among the most charming and engaging of conductors on the podium today.
His knowledge of the English light music repertoire is awesome, and his fluent baton technique can persuade even the most hard-boiled of orchestras to do their best for it.
Nothing hard-boiled, of course, about the CBSO, which attracted a capacity audience to Symphony Hall on Wednesday afternoon (and what a gratifying turnout for the pre-concert conversation with Wilson), and the players responded refreshingly to Wilson’s enthusiasm.
Wilson has the gift for picking out bass lines and inner melodies in which so much of this well-crafted repertoire is so rich, but, truth to tell, the quality of the music presented here was uneven.
Sullivan’s Overture di Ballo, a blowsy piece from a composer desperately in search of an identity which he never found, was one example, as was, I’m afraid, Robert Farnon’s suave Westminster Waltz, an addition to that sickly multitude of pieces which glamourise London.
But there were more goodies than growlies: Edward German’s warmly atmospheric Nocturne from his incidental music to Romeo and Juliet, the sincerity of Ketelbey’s Sanctuary of the Heart, a dignified, flowing Elgar Chanson de Nuit and Eric Coates’ tight and fizzing Suite The Three Men.
The first half had brought meatier stuff, with a neatly-judged Holst Perfect Fool ballet music, a flowing Delius On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, and an appropriately sardonic yet tender Walton Viola Concerto, Lawrence Power the dark-hued soloist communicating gripping urgency, Wilson’s orchestra taut and springy in its collaboration.