This James Bond concert had a license to thrill.
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra presented three performances of “007: The Music of James Bond (and Beyond!)” from Friday through Sunday at Bass Hall. The title suggested that selections from the scores of those classic British spy films would be offered, and they were. Under the baton of guest conductor Stuart Malina, the orchestra breezed through snippets from several Bond films (and others) like an Aston Martin fleeing bad guys.
But this pops concert was really more a showcase for the vocal stylings of Rachel York, a singer and actress with a handsome list of Broadway credits and a lovely, flexible voice.
York sparkled in treatments of some of the best-known songs from Bond films (“Live and Let Die,” “Nobody Does It Better” from “The Spy Who Loved Me”) and a few of the lesser-known ones (“Diamonds Are Forever,” “Moonraker”). She also enhanced her presentation with several costume changes that ranged from glittering gowns to an outfit consisting of a spy-defining trench coat, sunglasses and 1960s-style boots.
Her performance began a bit roughly Friday. She emoted a bit in her take on the title song from “Goldfinger,” and a poorly set sound system did her no favors. But both York and the amplified sound improved as the concert continued. She was very comfortable with most of the songs on the bill, and did an especially nice job with the title song from “For Your Eyes Only.”
York displayed a smooth, middle-ranged, musical-theater voice that usually slid easily into these movie songs. And since “For Your Eyes Only,” surprisingly, sounds like it could have been taken from “Wicked,” that tune fit her as well as her gowns.
But the uncontested highlight of her side of the concert was a hilarious reading of “Diamonds Are Forever,” in which she did impressions of other singers as she worked through the song. In one lyric, she was Cher. In the next she was Eartha Kitt, then Barbra Streisand, then Reba McEntire, and so on. It was a scream.
Malina and the orchestra also had a good night. The Tony-winning conductor (who opened the concert by mixing and drinking a shaken-not-stirred martini near his podium) and the players created a full, lush sound on every number, and embellished several with excellent solos, especially from the sax and trumpet players. In general, the strings would carry the weight of the numbers, with the brass and percussion sections providing sharp accents and dramatic flourishes.
All of the instrumental selections were impressive, but the best of the bunch was the theme from the Alfred Hitchcock classic “North By Northwest.” There were a slew of hall-of-fame-level composers on the program (Marvin Hamlisch, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and, of course, John Barry), but the quality and complexity of Bernard Herrmann’s score made most of them sound like children.
The only slight criticism that might be made is that some of the 1960s offerings sounded a bit cheesy by current standards. And a few reminded us that words never matter as much as music when it comes to Bond films. The lyrics for the title song from “Moonraker” were so achingly awful that it almost made you overlook how well York was singing it.
Also, there were no visual elements to complement the music. I am sure that getting the rights for Bond clips would have been expensive and difficult. But some reminders that the show was based in the cinema would have added a great deal to the concert’s overall impact.