Guffaws for Chaplin Classic—With Live Music

United StatesUnited States Chaplin et al.: Northwest Sinfonietta, Christophe Chagnard (conductor), Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, Seattle. 15.3.2013 (BJ)

Chaplin et al.: The Gold Rush

It’s not often that concerts by impeccably classically-oriented orchestras provide a plethora of belly-laughs, but the Northwest Sinfonietta’s live performance of the score to Charlie Chaplin’s classic comic movie, accompanying the film itself on the screen above, was such an occasion.

The Gold Rush has long been my favorite Chaplin film. Sequences like Charlie’s delicate dismembering of a boot and sucking on the “bones,” and the hilarious one when the cabin teeters on the brink of a precipice, are unforgettable. This showing, moreover, reminded me of sequences I had forgotten, like the dance in which a dog gets accidentally involved.

Rather as in ballet, the visual aspects of film and its musical element can succeed either by close correspondence of mood and method, or by a clean disjunction of those elements. In this case, while a delighted audience was guffawing its way through the evening, Chaplin’s own score provided an aural counterpoint of irreproachable romantic seriousness. The “et al.” in my heading is due to his inclusion of all sorts of pre-existing music by other—may I say more respectable?—composers, Wagner and Rimsky-Korsakov (The Flight of the Bumble Bee) among them.

And this music was performed with equally irreproachable gravity by the excellent Northwest Sinfonietta under Christophe Chagnard’s punctual and sensitive direction. I hope the orchestra may follow up this highly successful offering with more such movie-and-music combinations.

Bernard Jacobson