Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus

Conductor Diego Navarro


A review by John Williams

Varese Sarabande 40th Anniversary Concert
Saturday 17th Nov 2018
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
7-30 PM.


Towards the  end of a bitterly cold, yet Sunny day, Hollywood swept in and  landed in Glasgow on Saturday night, via a scheduled stop in Edinburgh  the night before.

Varese Sarabande, as we all know, were  probably the first of the Specialist labels in the States for Film Music, both original recordings and for re-recordings. That they are still, leader of the pack, and  whilst there are many contenders for title  that around, is due  Robert Townson, who’s name is just as well known as the Composers he is still, thankfully promoting.    His first recording was under the logo of Masters Film Music in 1985   , and that was a stellar score by the one and only Jerry Goldsmith. THE FINAL CONFLICT, the final part of Fox’s trilogy, which ironically has a more powerful and astounding score than THE OMEN, which Goldsmith very belatedly won his first and only Oscar for Best Original Score.


Towards the late Eighties and Nineties in particularly,  Mr  Townson recorded many landmark scores with the RSNO. here in Glasgow   Many very familiar, THE GREAT ESCAPE. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN,  THE SAND PEBBLES, REBECCA ,with the ones that years earlier , would have only been dreamed of. CITIZEN KANE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD,  BORN FREE, the list is endless.




So,  on Saturday night, an amazing programme was  played under the baton of Maestro Diego Navarro –  more anon.   The actual music played was much more varied and well thought out than I originally envisaged.  Certainly prior to the Concert, the Music looked like a very straightforward , yet interesting collection of familiar favourites.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as Mr Townson and his advisors brought together a collection of a Music, designed to appeal to , shall say, a less than committed listener, and one, like my self,  who had been listening to Film Music for more years than I can to mention!!



The added bonus if you like was the addition of,  Composers in Residence.  Three of Film land’s top scorers were actually in the audience. and selections from their wide ranging  compositions were played on the night.     Patrick Doyle, Oscar winner and composer of some of the biggest hits in recent years. I first interviewed Mr Doyle on occasion of his first film score, HENRY V.  Rachel Portman, Another Oscar winner, for EMMA, and composer of some of the finest Film Scores to come out of the U.K. and Hollywood in the last 20 years or so.  Again I recall interviewing Ms Portman  in earlier days, around the time of THE STORYTELLER, and ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT as  I recall, and finally David Arnold.   Composer of arguably the best Bond score since John Barry, TOMORROW NEVER DIES. Superb score and great end title song.  I spoke to him in the Studio when he was scoring that I recall.   Boy, I have been very   lucky and very privileged ! .

However as they say in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, let’s start at the very beginning.    Above the orchestra, between the  Ladies and Men’s Chorus hung a screen, which was a major and integral  of the Concert.  After a very  warm welcome to Mr Townson, the music started with a Overture of many of the themes that Varese had recorded over the years.  It was useful to see the Composer, and scenes from the recording sessions  as the music was being played.   The music was well synchronised with the images so the Overture finished right on cue with the final scenes. THE SEA HAWK kicked it off, with Silvestri and Goldsmith to the fore, and it was nice to hear music by one of the Hollywood Greats being played, Bruce Broughton’s THE BOY WHO COULD FLY .  What a lovely score this – a fine score of growing up and all that entails .


Two from Mr Doyle next AS YOU LIKE IT, A lovely and evocative Violin Romance played superbly by the RSNO’s leader, Sharon Roffman, followed by a piece from NANNY McFEE entitled “Snow in August” which is virtually as the title suggests.  Light and airy , you could almost feel the snow coming  down.   Great choral work from the Ladies of the RSNO Chorus    I always think that a good barometer of hearing music like this, is if you want to get the CD and play it when you get home, and that was certainly what I felt with this exquisite piece, then it works!.

Real change of pace next : THE GENERALS.  “MacArthur” and “Patton” by the much missed Jerry Goldsmith.   An orchestral tour de force here, and the RSNO were well up to the challenge.  I recall hearing Maestro Goldsmith conduct this at the Barbican in 1989, and this pretty much erased that rendering.   Well done RSNO!


I admit to a lump in the throat, when Mr Townson mentioned that when Jerry Goldsmith passed away, ” Film Music would never be the same again”    How true, however much we are very fortunate to have so many fine talents with us, Jerry Goldsmith  was. well,  Jerry Goldsmith!

Second soloist was Sara Andon who flew in from Los Angeles to bring us  a new piece adapted from Alex North’s landmark score SPARTACUS, a Fantasy on the Love theme, arranged by a great composer in his own right,  Lee Holdridge.   Nicely done, without the flute overbalancing and acting , and  it  may seem strange to say , a  spectator , as Ms Andon weaved her own particular brand of magic into , a truly great  Love theme, one of the finest recorded for any film. A few scenes from the film were shown on the screen, though the scenes which were pretty dark anyway, proved difficult to see at times. Mr Townson said this was his most favourite film score, and whilst Jerry Goldsmith and himself could never get around to re-record the score, he did finally manage to bring out a 6 CD set of the score and various interpretations.


Next up three from the talented and elegant Ms Portman.  The End Titles from the Oscar – winner, EMMA.,   a shorter piece from NEVER LET ME GO entitled “The Pier”.  Really loved this score, another one I am ashamed to say I wasn’t aware of.  Brilliant piece of writing  and finally from Ms Portman the End Titles from GREAT MOMENTS IN AVIATION, a score Mr Townson said he was proud to bring out, in a compilation of Ms Portman’s Movie scores, Lovely solo by Ms Sofia Troncoso,   –  Soprano. and very moving, a wonderful cue to close Ms Portman’s contribution .

Magnificent stuff, and as you can tell by now a heady brew of well known, and lesser know pieces to keep ones interest buoyant.

I should say that before the Music was played by Ms Portman and Mr Doyle, they said a few interesting words and comments from the audience.


To close Part one, a piece from SHREK.  For obvious reasons I guess coming from Scotland.  All elements of the Orchestra and Chorus were brought into play and it closed the first hour and ten minutes on a high.  I should say that is more me than this piece didn’t exactly hit the highs,.   No disrespect at all to the talented Mr Gregson- Williams and John Powell  (Mr Powell I recall speaking  to when he was working on STAY LUCKY)  but it was one of those pieces of music I couldn’t  recall after immediately hearing it.
Whew,  We all needed a break after all that. Fantastic.

Twenty minutes or so later, Part Two.   It kicked off  with a Varese Sarabande Action / Sci- Fi Overture, containing gems by Poledouris,  Horner, Kamen etc. These titles were shown on the Screen to start with but then faded quickly  to show stills of all the Composers that Mr Townson had worked with or recorded music by, starting with John Addison and finishing with Hans Zimmer, who else?   An amazing A to Z.   Again it was very moving to see some of these great composers so many now long with us.  There was a still of Mr Townson with the late Francis Lai, which was particularly evocative.    To return to the Overture, unless you knew all the themes very well, it would have been very difficult to pick out one from another. To be honest  they all tended to sound the same.


Next up Jerry Goldsmith’s ALIEN End Titles, one of my favourites from this troubled score and a great trumpet solo here.     This was a pretty short cue as was the next two themes, GAME OF THRONES, and Trevor Jones brilliant  Main Title from THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS.  Mr Townson informed us that this was one of their best sellers, and it virtually paid for the re-recording, in Glasgow with the RSNO, of Franz Waxman’s famous score to Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA.

I haven’t mention the Conductor as such as yet, but the next piece up was from a  Spanish Film he had scored entitled  PASSAGE TO DAWN.  For soloist  in this,  a delightful  Aarya  Gambhir from the RSNO Junior Chorus, gave a very well received , audience pleasing solo, and it was a really good piece of music that I suspect none of us had ever heard of before.

I admit now that I am fully paid up member of the unofficial  Diego Navarro Fan Club. This man is brilliant!    What a Showman!!.  How wonderful to see a Conductor to be so involved with the Music, so that every piece was a delight to watch, as well as listen to.   My wife, who over the years has had to put up with so much music, that I go in raptures about, and she say’s  “What are you listening to !!” and wonders why I am getting so excited was actually well into this Concert ,and just loved Mr Navarro.  I would certainly travel to see him Conduct  Anything!!


Ms Andon came back next with her flute for  Suite for Flute and Orchestra from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.    Mr Townson correctly said that this was a “tear jerker” and I would be the first to agree perhaps I could be a wee bit critical , I felt the flute took something away rather than adding a positive.  I still think that the opening solo piano is still the best option, as Mr Bernstein intended  but admit that when the orchestra come in to fully take up the theme , it breaks me up every time.  One of the finest film scores ever. period.

Last of the Composers up was David Arnold.   I had heard  of FOUR BROTHERS but regretfully  admit had never heard it,  but after hearing the End Titles I think it was – it doesn’t actually say.  that is something I must quickly remedy. Here the versatility of RSNO was shown, and how  . Trumpet,  percussion really took one’s breath away, but as we well, know, that is well within  their  capabilities . Witness the Orchestral tour de force last year, I think it was in the Williams  v Zimmer Concert.



INDEPENDENCE DAY was the last score up   .  Once more the combined talents of Orchestra and Chorus, proved Mr Townson’s predication.  “This is going to be big!”   And so it was, an amazing  piece of music, that to be honest, has to be heard live.  However good it is on CD.

How wonderful to have so much composing talent in this country-    and all Composers present.

By then the Audience was on it’s feet ,  applauding that went before, but of course, the Superlative  Orchestra, and the Conductor, Diego Navarro, who I think was genuinely moved by the reaction from the near sell – out Hall.

Mr Townson came back to introduce a Encore, one that “we would all know” .    Ms Andon came back to rapturous applause to play      …………   well, to be honest I wasn’t sure listening to  Ms Andon’s opening notes.  I think Jazz Rip is the wrong phrase , but I couldn’t  work out what it was till the Orchestra  fully joined in.  Oh I see, it’s MOON RIVER by Henry Mancini.  Lovely theme of course but a pretty average arrangement.


So finally ,  all the Composers came back to be  introduced once more, the whole evening wrapped around 10-00 PM which is a pretty good evening by anyone’s  standards.

40 Years of Varese Sarabande is well worth celebrating and this one heck of a way to do it.    I did wonder though after Mr Townson’s genuine love of the Orchestra and the recordings he produced, why he hadn’t been back to make more in the last ten years or so?   He did hint thought that the relationship with the Orchestra hasn’t exactly finished, so lets hope there are more treasures to come.

There is of course a new CD set to celebrate 40 Years of Varese Sarabande,  available  digitally now or in CD form around the end of November, with extra tracks.  It seems a shame that such a wonderful marketing opportunity was wasted.   I may be wrong but I did not see any CDS on sale. I realise it might cause more problems than benefits,-  someone from the Concert Hall would have to sell them, then there is how to pay,  but when you think of all the people in the Hall, a more tangible  souvenir of the Evening might have been a CD.   I am sure many  of the audience had no Soundtrack CDS in their collection, so  there may have been more than one Soundtrack convert that night if they had a CD to buy.


That said,   The “RSNO At The Movies” series continues in great form.   What a superb Orchestra, and aren’t we lucky to have such a great Orchestra on our doorstep.  I count myself lucky to have been at the first Filmharmonic Concert in 1970 when Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein, Ron Goodwin and Scotland’s own Muir  Mathieson  were conductors, and that Concert single –  handedly started Composers thinking of bringing their music to a wider audience rather  than  just stuck behind a car chase, a love scene or a adventure in outer space.!!.

Nearly 50 years on ,and the RSNO  are very safe custodians of such a  mighty legacy.  Long may they continue

Next up SCI -FI SPECTACULAR in Edinburgh  Friday 25th Jan 2019, and Glasgow Saturday 26th Jan 2019
THE MUSIC OF HARRY POTTER  in Edinburgh Friday 15th March 2019 AND Glasgow  Saturday 16th March 2019.

For my part, so far, my next Concerts to look forward to

THE MUSIC OF JOHN WILLIAMS  in Edinburgh Friday 26th April and Saturday 27th April 2019
(Conducted by Richard Kaufman who knows a heck of a lot about conducting Film Music, especially the esteemed John Williams)
BACK TO THE FUTURE  IN CONCERT Friday 24th May 2019 and Glasgow Saturday 25th May 2019.


See you there!!

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