Thursday, April 27, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Symphony tries to get in swing

Cincinnati Enquirer contributor John K. Toedtman filled in for Janelle Gelfand Friday night and had this to say in his April 22 review:

Billed as a jazz concert, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra program Friday night encompassed music imbued with jazz idioms rather than true improvisatory jazz. The music by Weill, Bernstein, and Gershwin has won the hearts of audiences for much of the 20th century; the symphony played to an almost full house.

Kurt Weill wrote the score for Bertolt Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera" in 1928. The Brecht play was judged subversive by many in Germany. Ten years after the first production of the opera Weill was forced to emigrate to the United States. The Weill Suite was performed by a small ensemble of winds, brass and piano. After the overture, the famous "Mack the Knife" theme wafts through the air. The "Ballad of the Easy Life" sounded suave and elegant. However, the polished classical musicians were not as free and sassy as Weill's music probably sounded in a smoke-filled Berlin cabaret in the 1930s. It is often tough for classical musicians to swing when they are used to playing it straight. I wanted the clarinets and brass to wail with more abandon.

Leonard Bernstein's "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs" borrows from the bebop era of Charlie Parker, but is hardly true improvisatory jazz. After a heated dialog with piano, clarinet and string bass the music gradually engulfs the entire ensemble to produce a very strident big band swing sound. Maestro Paavo Jarvi left center stage and allowed the group to swing on its own to a raucous exciting conclusion. For a pre-intermission encore the group played the jazz tune "Walking the Dog" with a wild solo by clarinetist Richie Hawley.

Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances from West Side Story" showcase his most popular successful composition. Bernstein's music moves from gentle ballads to acerbic sounds of violent conflict. After lots of fireworks, the piece ends with a hushed atmosphere and the melody "Somewhere."

Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is more rhapsodic than it is true blues or jazz. For a successful performance the pianist must draw both of the musical styles from the piano. Wayne Marshall approaches this music with great affection and lots of improvised notes. His touch is highly percussive, yet surprisingly lacks the weight and tonal power to be heard over the orchestra in forte tutti sections. A lack of balance between the orchestra and piano and a ragged quality to the part of both piano and orchestra left much to be desired in this performance of the Rhapsody.

This concert repeats tonight at 8:00 P.M. and Sunday at 3:00 P.M. These concerts are part of the Multicultural Awareness Council's Open Door Series.

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