It was the coat that did it.
When Carl Davis emerged after the interval in a black and gold frock coat the effect was stunning.
Applause and cheers aside (the audience at this CBSO Benevolent Fund Concert had up till then been respectfully restrained), even the orchestra seemed energized.
The first half, of what can only be described as a motley collection (Classical Favourites was the official title), was fairly uneventful. Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture built up steam when baton-less Davis swapped swimming gestures for precision conducting; and Debussy’s Clair de lune, two Strauss numbers and Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia were also decently played, despite Davis’s unwillingness to linger over the Russian’s haunting melodies.
Laurence Jackson’s account of the Beethoven Romance in F had no sense of a journey hastily undertaken.
By refusing to inflate the piece beyond its modest proportions he allowed every phrase to breathe and sing in an utterly beguiling, sweet-toned manner – a lovely performance.
With the change of coat (Davis had started in purple) everything became brighter: sparkling Tchaikovsky, sumptuous Fauré, cellos resplendent in Grainger’s Danny Boy, and a Walton Spitfire Prelude and Fugue that, with its effulgent brass, supercharged string playing, and sheer brilliance as one of the finest examples of stand-alone film music, outclassed everything else.
That, and a delightful Allegretto grazioso from Brahms’ Second Symphony, made Davis’s own Cranford music seem almost puny.
It’s a pleasant enough theme, but the so-called Suite he gave us was just a one-tune idea repeated several times in different orchestral colours and keys, with no attempt at development.
John Barry’s Out of Africa, though equally simple, was much more impressive.