Sunday, January 28, 2024

concert review: California Symphony

And yesterday, it was the turn of the California Symphony, with a program featuring three American works from the 1920s and 30s, the period that gave birth to serious Americana in classical music.

The biggest hit on the program was Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. No simple pianist to play the solo part, we had a jazz trio, the Marcus Roberts Trio. Roberts on piano made up his own part for the solo piano sections, but when playing with the orchestra he stuck with what Gershwin gave him. This reminded me of the limits Peter Jackson faced in how far he could depart from what Tolkien gave him. The bassist and drummer stuck in their oars from time to time. The encore was something barely recognizable as "I've Got Rhythm."

Samuel Barber's compact Symphony No. 1, not often played. (Conductor Donato Cabrera suggested it's too short to conveniently anchor a program.) Big hearty performance this time.

And William Levi Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony, exceedingly rare: championed by Stokowski but hardly ever played by anyone else. Everyone's on Florence Price these days as the African-American composer of the period, and William Grant Still gets an occasional look in, but Dawson is mostly still forgotten. Although some of his tunes here are genuine Black spiritual melodies, there was nothing that I recognized, and unlike Price's his music doesn't otherwise have that distinctly Black ethnic quality. It was nice but a little overlong and not as striking as I'd hoped.

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