Conductor David Bowden chose four favorite works of the orchestral literature for a delightful concert of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic on Saturday at Columbus East High School. Opening with George Gershwin’s imaginative and colorful “An American in Paris,” the orchestra immediately showed its ability to execute flawlessly Gershwin’s remarkable musical ideas, capturing both jazz elements and classical composition in the same work.
The rhythms burst with energy, and one could imagine hearing Parisian street sounds of a stroll on the Champs-Elysee, coupled with Gershwin’s fascinating melodic lines, and punctuated with real taxi horns called for in the score. This intriguing work has become a staple of orchestras throughout the world, and the Columbus Philharmonic gave it an energetic and virtuosic performance.
Next on the program came Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G Major, a pianistic tour-de-force that was brilliantly played by Di Wu, winner of some of music’s most coveted prizes and a favorite of Columbus audiences as she played here for the fifth time.
Ravel’s own description of the work gives interesting insight into his intentions: “It is a concerto in the truest sense of the word, written very much in the same spirit as those of Mozart and Saint-Saens. The music of a concerto, in my opinion, should be light-hearted and brilliant, and not aim at profundity or at dramatic effects. Too many classical concertos were composed not so much ‘for’ the piano, as ‘against’ the piano.”
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Maestro Bowden’s idea of putting these two pieces on the first half of the program recognized that both incorporated major jazz elements of syncopation, rapid scalar passages and soaring melodic lines.
Ms. Wu’s technical prowess enabled her to execute fiendishly difficult passages with clarity and a strong sense of phrasing. The orchestra and its individual sections also must be singled out for dramatic punctuations of jazz rhythms with remarkable accuracy and sense of sound and projection.
All of the instrumental soloists gave outstanding renditions of their scores, but particular mention must be made of Kathy Dell, principal flutist, Nancy Argersinger, principal oboist, and Samantha Johnson, E-flat clarinet soloist, for their stunning exhibition of superb musicianship and technical accomplishment.
After intermission, the Philharmonic played Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2,” commissioned by the great ballet master Sergei Diaghilev for his legendary Ballets Russes. Ravel called it a “choreographic symphony in three parts.”
We heard the second of two suites that Ravel fashioned from the longer work. All of the lush, innovative harmonies and striking melodic lines are fully exploited in this suite, and the orchestra projected this ravishing love story with telling perfection. Maestro Bowden showed extraordinary skill in building musical climaxes where melodic lines soared to unbelievable heights.
What could follow this monumental score? Only an undeniable audience favorite, and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” fulfilled the order admirably.
Wu again demonstrated her fleet fingers and her command of the keyboard as soloist for this “quintessential American showpiece.” From its familiar opening clarinet wail, deftly played by Annika Baake, principal clarinet, through rollicking syncopated rhythms, to its grand, majestic finale, it is replete with memorable melodies.
I wished that there were somewhat less bending of Gershwin’s rhythms and not quite such racing through certain sections, but these are small aberrations in a concert filled with virtuosic music making of a very high order. The dynamic conductor, superb soloist and great orchestral players gave a large and enthusiastic audience a concert long to be remembered.