The James Bond mood at last night’s sold out “Casino Royale” performance by the Lexington Philharmonic was placed into action as soon as the lights dimmed at the Opera House. Instead of the usual stoic calls for silenced cell phones, a recorded voice identifying itself as Bond superior “M” informed patrons their “assignment” was to cease all use of “world altering or covert electronic devices.”
Of course, in the fully realized world of 007, the absence of gadgetry would mute the fun factor greatly. But as it was, the concert’s mission of paying tribute to the scores and hit theme songs from the 55 year old spy movie series offered ample intrigue. Aided by New York vocalist Hilary Cole, the program covered music from nearly the entire Bond canon, from 1963’s “From Russia with Love” to 2012’s “Skyfall,” tracing with it a considerable slab of pop history.
First things first. The orchestra sounded splendid. In what may be one of the few exclusively pops oriented concerts since conductor/music director Scott Terrell’s arrival at the Philharmonic, the orchestra revealed an impressive grasp of drama and dynamics. This was most evident in instrumental works that delved far beyond the obvious pop themes of Bond films into the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s scores of John Barry. For instance, “Ski Chase,” which was essentially a variation of the theme to 1970’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” employed a simple, repetitive melody that steadily brought out deeper shades of colors from the winds and strings as it progressed. Ditto for “Dawn Raid at Fort Knox,” a bolero-like manipulation of the theme music from the 1964 Bond epic “Goldfinger.”
Barry’s music has been so pervasive in Bond culture that it was intriguing last night to hear fragments of it pop up in later themes he didn’t compose, like 1989’s “License to Kill,” which directly lifted the horn line from the “Goldfinger” theme.
Cole proved to be a serviceable, amiable but ultimately unremarkable singing presence. She revealed lovely tonality and phrasing, especially in some of the more formulaic theme songs (“For Your Eyes Only,” “Nobody Does it Better”) but was either under amplified or, more likely, simply not in possession of the kind of vocal firepower needed to sell and bolster “Goldfinger” or the more rock and soul inclined themes to “Live and Let Die” and “Goldeneye.” Also, her between song chat, good natured as it was, was often scattered or, in some cases, inaccurate. For instance, Shirley Bassey didn’t sing two Bond themes, as Cole stated, but three – “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever” and “Moonraker.”
Still, this was a grand idea for an audience-friendly pops program from the Philharmonic. One hopes this New Year’s Eve tradition, now in its third year, will continue not only as an alternative to the orchestra’s rigorous classical repertoire, but as a reflection of its considerable stylistic breadth.