May 12, 2022

South Florida Classical Review “” Alsop conducts New World Symphony in a whirlwind “Scheherazade”

Marin Alsop conducted the New World Symphony in music by Gershwin and Rimsky-Korsakov on Friday evening. Photo: Theresa Wey

by Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade may be an overplayed workhorse, but it still manages to thrill if rendered with art and sonic impact.

The New World Symphony under the direction of Marin Alsop delivered this and more on Friday night at the New World Center in Miami Beach. Alsop has been absent from the New World conductor’s roster for too long. His ability to get the best out of players and shape lively, energetic performances was palpable in the Russian centerpiece as well as in a new edition of an iconic Gershwin score.

The first copper exclamation in Scheherazade was emphatic and Alsop never let the momentum slip away for nearly fifty minutes of the work. His tense approach injected capillary tension into this technicolor musical performance of the One Thousand and One Nights. The turbulence of “The Sea and the Ship of Sinbad” was hurled with visceral force. “The Kalendar Prince” can easily get diffuse and episodic, but Alsop’s crisp directing kept the excitement at its peak. Principal violin Michael Turkell has faced the audience, rather than looking at the sheet music, during his numerous solos. Her nimble technique and liquid tone perfectly encompassed the heroine’s voice as she seduced the Sultan with exotic tales. The winds excelled in colorful thematic writing.

In “The Young Prince and The Young Princes,” the full, resonant sonority of the strings powerfully captured Alsop’s emphasis on oriental coloring in the main melody. The tempo changes in the central episode were well integrated, movement flowing in sultry hues. Alsop turned the “Festival at Bagdad” into a whirlwind of fierce energy and instrumental brilliance. With five horns, three trombones, two trumpets and a tuba making a mighty sound, the final destruction of the ship shook the hall. Alsop shaped the coda into poetic lines, a smooth, sweet conclusion to a performance that brought freshness to the most familiar pages. The ensemble was in top form, but Claire Bradford’s numerous cello solos, tested with beauty of tone and musical line, received special honors.

The scores used for Gershwin’s works have long been problematic. More than two decades ago, New World art director Michael Tilson Thomas discovered that Gershwin publisher Second Rhapsody had seriously altered the score, removing the dissonance and originality of the work. Most of Gershwin’s other partitions are plagued with errors and fixes or revisions. The Gershwin Estate and the University of Michigan are collaborating on a new edition that will be faithful to the composer’s manuscripts.

Pianist Aaron Diehl and Alsop presented the first American interpretation of a recently refined version of the Concerto in F major, edited by Timothy D. Freeze.

Aaron Diehl. Photo: Steve J. Sherman

The work certainly looked fresh. Alsop produced a leaner and tighter firm mix, with much of the sound of the strings trimmed, altered, and even removed. Diehl, a keyboardist who encompasses both the classical world and the world of jazz, brought poise and idiomatic ease to exterior movements. He’s got a technique to burn, and in the second movement could play with the rhapsodic sweep when asked. The incisive thrust and punchy swing of the finale injected new vitality and virtuosity into Gershwin’s only true concerto.

While writing the concerto, Gershwin studied orchestration and the work was his first effort to make his own score. With this new edition, his work stood out even more remarkably assured. Morgen Low’s muted trumpet solo in the second movement had just the right blues vibe. Alsop brought out the interior details of the exterior movements, leading with a rhythmic snap and zest. She sang the varied melodies of the second movement while also pulling top notch playing from all sections of the ensemble. Obviously, Alsop had a strong relationship with the players and she should be back on the New World podium soon.

Conductor Chad Goodman opened the program with Masquerade by Anna Clyne. The British composer is very talented and has written some beautiful works, but this is not one of them.

Based on the drinking song “Juice of Barley”, the 2013 sheet music is superficial crowd pleaser in a loud and hoarse manner. There is more noise and fury than substance in this eight-minute opening. Goodman made the best case for the vignette, skillfully measuring the volume and tonal variety of the orchestra.

The New World Symphony resumes at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the New World Center in Miami Beach and 8:00 p.m. Sunday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

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