Review by Danny Gaisin
It’s a century since the armistice ended the Great War. Even my young(er) wife can recall the Second World War and the music written and performed then, can still evoke memories of those years. It was the period of RagTime with its emphasis on synchopation and the 2 or 4/4 beat made popular by Scott Joplin. It was also the heyday of Tin Pan Alley (28th between 5th & 6th Avenues) where sheet music was promoted and published. The HPO’s amazing maestra Gemma New invited the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Band to add colour, drama and pomp commensurate with the occasion
Then an evening of almost sing-along opportunities for those of us with grey, little or no hair.
As guest soloist, tenor Doug LaBrecque owned the stage; the audience; the orchestra, and almost the podium itself. His embullient manner; poise and energy is only outdone by his superb voice. Peripatetic to a fault, every seat in the Great Hall felt as though it was located aisle “A” ,seat centre. He and the orchestra opened with Joplin’s ‘Entertainer’ and then his theme ‘Maple Leaf Rag’. Labrecque invited everyone to musically meet the eponymous “Alexander and his band”. Mentally, we were already ‘coming along’ as he took us by the hand! Then ,everyone that could – whistled along with Col Bogey as he built the infamous bridge for his Japanese capturers.
Canada became involved with the British Armed forces in 1939. Three years later, our American cousins joined in and one heard a number of WWI songs to support the change from a previously isolationist attiude. Labrecque’s medley of these evocative pieces included Tipperary; Kit Bag; staying down on the farm (after seeing Paree) and the optimistic hit about ‘Chasing Rainbows’. The audience response was as if the soloist had asked everyone to sing along with his renderings.
After a dramatic recitation of ‘Flanders Fields’ that incorporated the voices of the Bach Elgar Choir, he turned his sights on some thirties hits by Jacob Gershowitz aka Al Jolson. Concertmaster Stephen Sitarski was co-opted to duet with ‘I Got Rhythm’ and we all assisted in a bilingual rendition of S’Wonderful…it was!
Post interval, (where the audience could hear the RHLI’s on the mezzanine); more Gershwin and some Al (Asa) Jolson, whose songs always seem a paenan to the South, given that he usually performed in blackface. His Jewish background felt a kindred spirit with the plight of the black community and he felt that through their music, an understanding might evolve. Labrecque was able to re-create the ethos of “Mammy’; California, here I come; “April Showers” and his signature “Swanee” that has everything but the music of DIXIE to warm every CSA afficionado. Some Cole Porter, including ‘Night & Day’ ‘Just one of those things’ and his closing ‘Night & Day’ brought the audience out of their seats. Obviously, an encore was needed and the Bach Elgar ensemble joined LaBrecque in an absolutely dynmaic and emotional ‘Over the Rainbow’ from 1938’s Wizard of OZ.
The Halloween afternoon; the Cirq du Symphonie; both the Haydn & Brahms concerts, and now this evening’s powerhouse evening. MeThinks that our ARTS REVIEW’s Top Ten will again ahve to have multiple titles under the candidate’s listings. Thank you H.P.O. & Ms. New.