On Saturday night, Anthony Brown’s Full Tone Orchestra hit the Corn Exchange with the songs and compositions of Gershwin and Bernstein. To see an orchestra in Devizes is a special thing. We’re a small town. The Corn Exchange is not the Albert Hall. What do we expect?

Why, excellence, of course. We’re a demanding audience.

The Full Tone Orchestra is a new orchestra, comprised of some of the South-West’s finest musicians. Formed in 2017, their first show, ‘Iconic Tunes -2017’ was, for a debut, a triumph. On Saturday they came 39 strong, and accompanied by five of the town’s finest voices, Teresa Bray, Jemma Brown, Chris Worthy, Will Sexton, and Ian Diddams.

I went to the rehearsal in the afternoon. It’s fair to say that the earth moved slightly, and it wasn’t just the percussion. Got a couple of shivers, so I did, mainly during Jemma’s rendition of ‘Summertime’. What was most obvious during the rehearsal though was the absolute concentration of the musicians, on the score, on Anthony’s conducting, on each other. No mucking about. This lot meant business.

The sell out show, compered amiably by the affable Ian, opened with ‘An American in Paris’, first performed in 1928, followed by ‘Summertime’, three songs from ’On The Town’, and a medley from West Side Story. The second half was comprised of the Overture and Lament from ‘Candide’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, ‘Embraceable You’, ‘Cuban Overture’, ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’, ‘S’Wonderful’, and ‘I Got Rhythm’.

Whilst there was a scattering of folk too young to remember such classics, this is the stuff that the musical dreams of our mature core audience are made of; smooth jazz, memorable lines, hazy evocations of smoky clubs and cinemas, soft-edged nostalgia. Hard to go wrong really.

But they did a bit. Just a little bit.

I have to say that I thought that ‘New York, New York’ (admittedly a tricky song) missed the mark. Three great singers, Ian, Chris, and Will, not on their game at all. A lack of rehearsal, perhaps, or nerves? And Chris Worthy, whilst nailing ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, came across in other numbers as uncharacteristically lacking in confidence.

Other than that, amazing. Full sound (although on occasion the orchestra overpowered the singers slightly, but see above ‘not the Albert Hall’), perky percussion, horny rhythms, slick harmonies and sliding melodies, singers dressed to kill, and subtle shades of days gone by. Atmosphere, and a real sense of occasion.

Who stole the show? Will Sexton, undoubtedly, both on his own, and in the delicately done duet ‘Tonight’, with the sweet-voiced Teresa Bray. The boy’s voice is butter smooth, and oh how seductively he croons.

And the orchestra! A joy to listen to, and so professional! More, more, more from The Full Tone Orchestra over the next few years, please! And yea verily the audience did tap their feet, and hum, and sway a little in their seats, and there was an encore, and much clapping.

As I was leaving I listened for quotes from the audience. ‘Wonderful!’ said one lady to her husband. ‘Fantastic!’ said another. ‘Proof again that we punch above our weight culturally!’ said Don Jones.

A Night With Bernstein and Gershwin and The Full Tone Orchestra at the Corn Exchange; a night in good company well spent, not perfect by any means, but somehow really rather brilliant.

© Gail Foster 20th February 2018