Above and featured image: Artistic Director Sarah-Grace Williams and The Metropolitan Orchestra.

At the large, vividly lit Riverside Theatre space last weekend it was high time to abandon the airpods, stop searching for online streams and forget the fatigue from successive lockdowns.  The Metropolitan Orchestra was back performing live with a ‘Classical Blockbusters’ concert.

The cleverly programmed set of contrasted,  well-known works from TMO’s large repertoire were given careful treatment by Artistic Director Sarah-Grace Williams. The orchestral hits were presented with an exemplary fresh, capable accent on top of the effect of musical familiarity.

Solid support of two TMO principals in solo moments was also key in delivering the classical blockbusters with controlled detail,  exciting splashes of colour and spontaneity within the instantly recognisable textures. Despite the recent enforced break, the orchestra emerged with its trademark clarity, momentum and balance en pointe across the group admirably intact.

The juxtaposition of styles and musical sources in this concert’s structure activated a fine momentum for the evening’s live event. A welcoming, endearing warmth in the conductor’s narration led us through the keen contrasts and effectively jarring juxtapositions in the programme. Her words highlighted history and suggested emotional parallels to current times.

Above: Concertmaster of TMO, Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich played Sarasate’s ‘Ziguenereisen’

Such substantial contrasts included the opening  Superman March with arresting brass fanfare work leading straight into gypsy-inspired Sarasate violin virtuosity with orchestra. Later on, dance music from a timely Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite and Brahms delighted shortly prior close by film music from the ‘Indiana Jones’ franchise.

Concertmaster  Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich delivered Sarasate’s beloved bravura-filled Ziguenereisen with well-paced and expansive flair, suitably crowning the orchestra’s broad dramatic strokes underneath her slick, sensitive statements.

This violinist’s deep musicianship and  articulation of the emotion showed much skill and artistic integrity.Moments of lyricism spoke to us with a newness and pleasing individual tone for this famous gypsy narrative. Respect for the architecture and sensible organic growth of melodic material throughout brought us an infectious poignancy as we revisited the work.

Another formidable atmosphere to sink into live was Andrew Doyle’s rendering of Mozart’s smooth complexity that is the ever-popular ‘Adagio’ from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. This performer was in full control of the basset clarinet, moving across registers and through the sections of this movement with ease.

Mozart’s exquisite melodic line was here handled with edge-of-the-seat delicacy. Phrasing and ornamentation was intelligent and as consistently solid as it was spontaneous. Freshness and control worked in tandem to render figurations and gesture, which is always perfect for interpreting Mozart.

Above: Principal Clarinet of TMO, Andrew Doyle, performed the ‘Adagio’ movement from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major K622.

With countries and the Arts currently strained simultaneously, TMO’s elevated pastiche of loved music hit the mark repeatedly with regards to supplying flavours from around the world.

Such successful tutti orchestral moments were many. A joyous and variegated celebration of the energy from Europe and opera transported us during the precise and gutsy performance of Bizet’s Carmen Suite. This encouraged  or refreshed our appetite for the possibilities of spirit, sound and storytelling on the opera stage and in exciting opera houses that have recently been dark.

Spot-on evocation of place and with beautiful poise in wind timbres especially imbued an impressively painted  ‘Arabian Dance’ from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.  Grainy, gorgeous sentiment was tastefully brought to us in Brahms’ Hungarian Dances 5 and 6 back in orchestral voice. Changes in texture and  tempo were handled with scintillating security and verve in these popular musical moments.

A solemn, soaring but never oversung or exaggerated ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations also sat in a special and stirring place within this concert of Classical Blockbusters.  Its well-paced, well-prepared contained growth tugged at heartstrings.

This and all other classical hits in this reunion concert helped us vent lockdown emotions various and renew enthusiasm for popular classics.  An ecstatic audience did this journey face to facemask, once more in the safe musical company of TMO. Things are looking up.