Gershwin’s Genius performed by The National Symphony Orchestra at the NCH on 10th January 2014
A regular Friday night date with the NSO should be on every music fans resolution list for 2014. The ensemble continued their momentum for the New Year by celebrating three works from the last century with help from visiting conductor Jayce Ogren.
The orchestra opened with the Adams piece. The Chairman Dances which is taken from Nixon in China, an opera encouraged by Peter Sellars, saw the NSO turn the surreal dream in to somewhat of a nightmare. With the strong role for the percussion in this piece it’s disappointing when at times it sounds slightly more invasive than intended. The other sections continue to disappoint, treating the sparser, contemporary sections with a static reservation, and their awkward approach to the non-melodic sections exposes a certain discomfort with the material. Yet, they do excel at the more lyrical aspects of the composition, returning to what seems to be a comfort zone for the ensemble.
Unlike the musicians, visiting conductor Ogren embraces the compositions and shows his ease with these challenging works. His sensitive yet confident approach proved favourable. Michael McHale’s contribution during Gershwin’s Concerto in F was by far the highlight of the night. The young pianist moved through the bluesy piano line with ease and precision, entertaining and engaging the crowd with the performance. Again, a lack of zeal from the other musicians holds back the atmosphere in the hall. This time however, it was even more apparent when juxtaposed with McHale’s passion for the score, particularly during antiphonic segments.
With this in mind, it is not until the second movement that the night reaches its climax. During the pronounced pizzicato it seems that even the violins are enjoying themselves. And why not? Not only are the NSO joined by an accomplished pianist and conductor but the concerto embodies much of the characteristics which made Gershwin’s work for Broadway so popular. Memorable themes reappear throughout as they make their way through various sections of the orchestra diluting the innovative aspects without taking from them.
Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43 closes the evening. The longer work sees the NSO much more comfortable with the score. The Finnish composer’s use of folk tunes boom from a rich sounding orchestra and an impressive woodwind excels throughout the symphony.
Overall, the night was a success. It was great to hear more contemporary yet accessible works and it proved popular with the audience. However the NSO’s unwillingness to engage with the less traditional aspects of the compositions was a disappointment. Perhaps if the public are to adopt the NSO into their plans for the New Year then it seems only fair that the orchestra should embrace more contemporary works for the future.
The Chairman Dances- John Adams
Piano Concerto in F- George Gershwin
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43- Jean Sibelius
Conductor- Jayce Ogren
Soloist- Michael McHale