Sunday, January 18, 2015

A great night of Copland, Gershwin and some other guy

Pianist Peter Donohoe, left, and conductor Valentin Radu
after the concert Friday night. 
The Ama Deus Ensemble, with guest soloist Peter Donohoe, served up an exciting concert Friday evening. It was a long program – more than two and a half hours, with intermission – but it sure didn’t feel like it. Donohoe joined the orchestra in performances of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the Concerto in F, as well as the regional premiere of Aaron Copland’s 1926 Piano Concerto. Any one of those would have made the evening feel complete, but as Peter said afterward, he had traveled a long way for this concert. He might as well try to fit everything in.

Gershwin’s third big concert piece, An American in Paris, was also thrown in for good measure at the end of the first half.

The Piano Concerto is not one of Copland’s more famous works, or even, to be honest, one of his best, though it foreshadows the aggressive symphonic jazz Leonard Bernstein would develop in West Side Story. Donohoe and company gave a convincing, confident-sounding reading that betrayed none of the trepidation they must have felt in the face of such complex and unfamiliar music. For me, it was the highlight of the program, even if the Gershwin melodies that followed stick more tenaciously in the mind. Donohoe, reading from a score, was riveting, and the orchestra snapped to attention behind him, which was a relief after the curtain raiser, a somewhat lackluster reading of some lackluster movie music by John Williams. The ensemble stayed at that higher level for the rest of the night, especially in the Rhapsody, when it achieved some moments of genuine grandeur.

I should also mention clarinetist Arne Running and trumpeter Scott McIntosh, who reveled in the solo passages provided by Gershwin. McIntosh, especially, shone in all the blues, the glissandi and the muted wah-wahs. For a few indelible moments, he transformed the Perelman into Preservation Hall.

No comments: