Monday, June 27, 2011

Friday Night is Music Night – review

The Light Fantastic Festival – which hijacked the Southbank Centre and much of the BBC radio schedules this weekend – showcased a genre that is usually beyond the purview of music critics. "Light music" is deemed too lightweight for the classical world, too rigid for jazz and no longer popular enough to be labelled pop music. It thus falls into this curious no man's land, the anonymous soundtrack to dimly remembered seaside holidays and variety shows. Its only home now is the long-running BBC radio institution, Friday Night is Music Night which opened the festival with a live broadcast to Radios 2 and 3.

FNIMN does occasionally venture out of its pre-second-world-war comfort zone – paying tribute to the likes of Sondheim, Bacharach, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tony Hatch – but this concert concentrated on the show's core repertoire: the operettas, light classics and showtunes that served as the nation's popular music before the advent of rock'n'roll.

There was much to admire here, in particular the incredibly detailed arrangements, which glistened and sparkled like a Fabergé egg. The problem was that there was no differentiation between these disparate musical styles. The three singers – Lesley Garrett, Charlotte Page and Richard Suart – all excelled when performing excerpts from operettas (baritone Suart's comic turn on Gilbert and Sullivan's I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General was a crowd-pleasing highlight). But all three sounded painfully out of their depth in showtunes such as Spread a Little Happiness or If You Were the Only Girl in the World – romantic pop songs that require lightness of touch and an ability to swing. Indeed, a lot of material under the "light music" banner might b


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