Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Great Gershwin, Brilliant Bernstein

Gershwin: Cuban Overture
Bernstein: Glitter and Be Gayfrom Candide (Tracy Dahl, soprano)
Gershwin:  Catfish Row: Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess (Bramwell Tovey, piano; Tracy Dahl, soprano)
Greshwin: Songs (Arranged by Bramwell Tovey: The Man I Love; They Can't Take That Away from Me, A Foggy Day (in London Town); Fascinating Rhythm) (Tracy Dahl, soprano)
Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Bramwell Tovey, conductor.

My adventure with classical music in general and The Cleveland Orchestra in particular began with hearing the Orchestra perform Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah) in Severance Hall not that many years ago. Largely for that reason,  I chose tonight's concert over Saturdays more "classical" programming. By Intermission I was beginning to think that I chose poorly. That feeling didn't subside before the concert came to an end.

The concert started with Cuban Overture, a musical postcard of sorts from a pre-revolution Cuba and had an immediate energy and a Latin flair that was right at home on a warm Cleveland night, but generally felt a little unfocused -- as if the orchestra wasn't fully buying what Mr. Tovey was laying down. The unfocused feeling persisted throughout the piece -- even the more slow and delicate places, and to an extent through the entire concert, though never as acutely as in Cuban Overture.

The saving grace  of  the evening was  Mr. Tovey's banter, including poking good-natured fun at the latecomers ("the piece most of you just heard") and apologizing for not having either of the composers with us ("they're now specializing in decomposing")

For the next three pieces on the program, Soprano Tracy Dahl joined the orchestra and I desperately want to find a positive, but I had a very hard time imagining her as the character whose role she was singing. Each piece she sung seemed to need a certain spunk or youthfullness, and I really didn't get a sense of that in any of them. In Glitter and Be Gay, Ms. Dahl sung the part of a "lady of the night" but I didn't get that feeling, and over-the-top vibrato was both distracting and rendered many of the lyrics almost unintelligible.

With the first two pieces behind us, Gershwin's Catfish Row suite from Porgy and Bess -- not the better known suite arranged by Robert Russell Bennett was great and full of texture. Having heard members of the orchestra, as a quartet, along with Soprano Jung Oh, preform Summertime in a recent Heights Arts House Concert, it was interesting to hear the piece with full orchestra as part of this suite, though the Heights Arts version was more compelling.

After intermission, the concert -- I almost wrote agony -- continued with four Gershwin songs with varying highlights:  A punctuated deep piano (played by Mr. Tovey)  for The Man I Love; a jazzy mood in They Can't Take That Away from Me; Ms. Dahl's best piece of the evening, and a beautiful violin solo in A Foggy Day (in London Town) and when the Orchestra overcame initial lethargy and accoustically overpowered Ms. Dahl in Fasscinating Rythm.

The concert ended with Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story which was the one I liked most from the evening: Full of a variety of textures and reasonably focused it had mystery, danger, excitement, and love intermingled and ending on a questioning note.


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