What: Dame Malvina Major: Diamond Jubilee Celebration Tour
Who: Dame Malvina Major and guests Geoff Sewell, Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, Hogsnort Rupert, and the RNZ Air Force Band.
When: Friday, February 21, 6pm
Where: Rhododendron Lawn Hamilton Gardens
Soloists: Dame Malvina Major, Geoff Sewell, and others.
Reviewer: Sam Edwards
From the marketing, it seemed as if this was to be a benefit where Dame Malvina Major was the prime performer and would be supported by a range of associate artists. Not so.
The Jubilee Celebration Tour is as much a tour through the music Dame Malvina loves as a demonstration of her own remarkable musical capacity.
She is a diva. She is also one of us, and the sense of family, of music most of us had enjoyed over the last 60 years, of sheer fun with sound, was palpable.
Her programme took some remarkable leaps. The RNZ Air Force Band which closed the programme, worked with Dame Malvina in showcasing a number of songs they will sing during the commemoration of the beginning of World War I next year.
Songs included the Vera Lynn classic We'll Meet Again, and brought a degree of solemnity to a concert marked by its wonderfully relaxed musical hilarity and popular enjoyment. At the same time it echoed one of the themes of the evening, participation by the audience.
Geoff Sewell, his remarkable voice on display across the range from opera to pop, including a lovely sendup involving Pavarotti and Presley, drove the crowd to a rare level of excitement with the Howard Morrison arrangement of How Great Thou Art, admiration with O Sole Mio and huge fun singing with him in Funiculi Funicula.
That excitement, different but huge, came to another foot tapping, clapping, cheering crescendo with the two bands. This was so Kiwi you could almost see the flightless tripod dancing with pleasure.
Instead, the crowds did, and at times the music had them dancing in the aisles. When Hogsnort Rupert hit the loud button on We Love to Boogie people who remembered jitterbug were on their feet, having had a great sing out with classics like Auntie Alice Bought Us This. Perhaps the greatest fun was from Hamilton Country Bluegrass Band. Mouths were sounding the lyrics for memories like Reuben James, hands were clapping and heads were keeping time to Orange Blossom Special and the musicianship, the arrangements, the riffs and solos were timeless. Two remarkable drum riffs, one in the context of Hogsnort Rupert's performance, the other a long and crowd-rousing exhibition from the percussionist in the RNZ Air Force Band, had the crowd more excited than was good for most of them.
But in the end, it was still Major's night. Smooth, seductive low notes like an impossibly expensive malt whisky shifted to glorious heights, most clearly for the audience when she reached the vocal zenith in the popular Danny Boy. Puccini's O Mio Babbino Caro was another reminder of her range.
She began life singing country and western classics with her family, and to put Puccini alongside a yodelling ukelele was a touch of genius.
Everyone went away with their musical lollybags thoroughly replenished.
See pictures, Out and About, Page 12.