April Fool’s Day Comedy Concert at Royal Festival Hall – London Firebird Orchestra & Rainer Hersch with Marc-André Hamelin, Alistair McGowan and Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

“An afternoon of great comedy and music.”

Alistair McGowan (voice/comedian)

Marc-André Hamelin (piano/comedian)

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

London Firebird Orchestra
Rainer Hersch


Reviewed by: Paul Czajkowski

Reviewed: 1 April, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

April Fool’s Day Comedy Concert. photo: www.firebirdorchestra.comHumour is very personal and not everyone will respond to Rainer Hersch’s brand of musical ‘funnies’ quite as well as the audience did at his Royal Festival Hall “April Fool’s Day Comedy Concert’. That there were more hits than misses in the programme is a tribute to the undoubted thought put into the musical items – as well as the polish of the London Firebird Orchestra.

April Fool’s Day Comedy Concert. photo: www.firebirdorchestra.comBeginning with the William Tell Overture – with judiciously added orchestral ‘extras’ – it set the mood of the concert, which included audience participation (which for many will engender feelings of utter horror). Of course, classical music has always been well disposed towards humour without any being grafted on to it (Joseph Haydn) and having two men with shotguns stalking the orchestra playing Johann Strauss’s Auf der Jagd added little to the delight of hearing this work, excellently conducted by Hersch. Similarly, the ‘Laughing Song’ from Die Fledermaus is amusing enough without the addition of ‘funny’ words blazoned on the screen, which detracted from the intrinsic charm of the number, sung here by Lindsay Sutherland Boal, who impressed with her ‘gargling’ singing in the tipsy song, Schwipslied. Alistair McGowan was superb in his aria from The Mikado (‘A More Humane Mikado’) which we are already used to hearing peppered with contemporary references and McGowan’s stand-up section was a tour de force.

There was real style in the playing of Marc-André Hamelin who performed Dudley Moore’s inspired Beethoven parody with absolute brilliance – and he was equally adept in his repartee with Hersch – both displaying admirable comic timing. The longest item was an updated version of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, which may have stretched the patience of those expecting the familiar version (narration by Alistair McGowan). But it included many delights, not least in the sniping at popular ‘celebs’ (Alan Carr, Peter Andre and Brian Cox all admirable targets), a highly effective ‘seagull motif’ and the addition of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – always a pleasure. The latter gave its own arrangement of the ‘Theme’ from Shaft which was thoroughly entertaining, even if it did lack the music’s trademark ‘wah wah’ guitar.

All in all, the concert was enjoyable, its only aim being to make people smile. That it surely did and if it introduced more people to classical music (there were many young people in the audience), so much the better. It also marked the debut of the excellent London Firebird Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall.

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