Nice ‘n’ Easy: Hits from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s

Grant, Stokke, Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Murray

Usher Hall, 12 October 2010 3 stars

Lisa Stokke

There is nothing like an evening of classic lounge and easy-listening hits, reminiscent of both old Hollywood glamour and such well known variety shows as The Lawrence Welk Show, to start off the weekend. All that was missing was the dance floor, as the RSNO along with singers Lisa Stokke and Peter Grant transformed Edinburgh’s Usher Hall into an old-fashioned dance hall for the evening.

At times, Peter Grant's smooth croon channelled the spirits of such greats as Jack Jones, Harry Connick, Jr., and a younger Tony Bennett, but, unfortunately, did not always remain consistent in style, as Grant seemed to be searching for the right tone for each song. His vocals seemed stretched in the lower registers and his voice was often swallowed by the full orchestra. In a rather odd swing-jazz arrangement of The Beatles' 'I Saw Her Standing There' his vocals lacked spontaneity and energetic lift. To be fair, the chosen arrangement did not do Grant any favours, but even as he attempted to play around vocally, both the song and his vocals fell flat. Grant's best numbers were the more mellow Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole selections, where he sounded more at ease with the accompaniment of the big band.

It is obvious that Lisa Stokke comes from a theatrical background as her voice shines in tunes from hit musicals such as Oliver! and Meet Me In St. Louis, visibly getting into character for these songs, not to mention the various dress changes throughout the show. But it was a Petula Clark medley of 'Call Me' and 'Downtown' which marked the climax of her performance. In other numbers such as 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose?' and 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend' she sang dutifully, but seemed to lack the energy and spirited character of the songs.

The performance ended with duets from Grant and Stokke, the last being 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You,' which welcomed the audience to sing along. This was perhaps a good distraction from the noticeable disparity between the voices on stage; Stokke's fuller, clearer voice contrasted tellingly with Grant's softer, mellower tone. It became difficult to hear Grant, especially during orchestral climaxes. It began to be apparent that he may have also been under the weather as his voice became raspier and more strained as the night went on. As Grant struggled to hold his own against the vibrancy of the RSNO, Stokke made up for his shortfalls with her own expressive vocals.

The real stars of the evening, however, were the RSNO and Eliot Murray, the latter of who clearly shines as a big band conductor. Highlights were Quincy Jones's 'Soul Bossa Nova' and a medley of Henry Mancini songs, which introduced an accordionist seated amongst the string players, a nice touch. The strings swayed from lush love scenes to more animated numbers. The saxophone sang soulful melodic lines. The trumpets amused the audience with their comical selection of hats during a Burt Kaempfert medley of 'Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,' 'A Swingin' Safari,' and 'Tijuana Taxi.' In the end, it was the brass section as a whole that pulled the night together with their tight bursts of energy combined with a playfulness of character that kept us wanting more. Programme coordinator (and RSNO trumpeter) Marcus Pope successfully created a pleasurable evening of hits, allowing the audience to just sit back and listen as they were transported to an era of class, sophisticated style, and good old-fashioned entertainment.

By Theresa Steward

Photo: Lisa Stokke

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