Review by Brian Hay
This concert, on stage at Centennial Hall, was already hopping before the guest soloist Denzal Sinclaire took the stage. Conductor David Martin’s arrangement of ‘Three Preludes’ sparkled with life and brought out the best in the musicians of Orchestra London. There was more to come during this afternoon of highlights. Sinclaire’s voice soared on performances of ‘For You, For Me, Forevermore’ and ‘You Must Believe in Spring’. He gave the rhythm section their first real showcase of the day with his performance of ‘I’ve Got the World on a String’. Drummer Rob Inch displayed an acrobatic side that’s not often seen in a concert with a symphony orchestra. Sinclaire lulled the crowd beautifully with ‘I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling’. He lifted them quietly with lovely renditions of ‘I Want to Be Happy’ and ‘Too Young’. His performance of ‘Amazing Grace’ was accompanied only by some beautifully restrained playing by Orchestra London’s Principle cellist, Christine Newland. His delightful reading of ‘Love is Here to Stay’ paved the way for the instrumental piece, ‘A Touch of Bacharach’, which the conductor accompanied on the Tuba. The vocalist’s performance of ‘Nature Boy’ reminded the audience that musicians are fans as well. Most of them could be seen smiling while Newland accompanied Sinclaire’s extraordinary singing. There was a moment when Denzal was singing ‘The Look of Love’ when Martin just stopped conducting and stood straight to absorb the music. Why not? The orchestra had the passage that led to the break, well in hand. When they stopped; the rhythm section took over the while pianist Dean Harrison played lines filled with gentle melodic beauty. Karen Pincombe injected some delectable percussion work while bassist Joseph Phillips with percussion accompaniment created a platform that gave the relaxed sounding performance an unmistakable surge of energy. When he came back in, Sinclaire’s sublime vocal work just soared above it all. It was an extraordinary moment and certainly a highlight.
The rhythm section played an integral part in this show. Orchestra London’s Principle Bassist Joseph Phillips and drummer Rob Inch laid down a platform that fed energy to the entire group. When called upon, The Orchestra’s timpanist, D’Arcy Gray, and Percussionist Karen Pincombe hit their beats with authority whether playing directly over top or in between the bits supplied by Phillips and Inch. They were “on the money” every time. Pianist Dean Harrison was often in the middle of the fun contributing delectable riffs in the spaces the rhythm players created for him. This group could form a great ensemble on their own if they had the inclination.
With the exception of De Falla’s ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ all of the pieces performed were shown in arrangements based on the original material. Most of the pieces written by the Gershwin were arranged by Sinclaire’s longtime collaborator Bill Coon. Martin arranged the ‘Three Preludes’ and many of the other pieces performed. The balance of the arrangements was the work of the soloist. Coon’s arrangements placed emphasis on sharp punctuation and quick shifts between orchestral sections. David Martin’s arrangements had similar dynamics but often gave extended passages to the brass players. Sinclaire’s arrangements placed much of the emphasis on song structure and melodic lines. All of the arrangers placed much of the onus on the work of the rhythm players.
When this show concluded, the ovation was well deserved. The conductor enjoyed a strong rapport with the orchestra and he performed beautifully as a soloist as well. His embellishments on the trombone were especially tasty during a stellar rendition of ‘Too Marvellous For Words’.
Sinclaire’s singing was pitch-perfect and his musical phrasing was impeccable. His voice rolls out like a carpet of the finest silk and his stage presence is one framed with humour and humility that makes him a performer easy to embrace and love. They definitely loved him London, and with good reason.