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RHAPSODY IN BLUE

Review of May 2023 Concert

SMCO’s most recent concert, Rhapsody in Blue saw the orchestra and audience catapulted into the 1920s.  While SMCO has often dipped a foot into the twentieth and even 21st century repertoire, here they were fully submerged and revelling in the bold and brassy world of Weimar Germany, American Jazz of the 1920s and Duke Ellington’s big band music of the 1970s.  Justus Rozemond has conducted St Matthew’s before and made an exciting team with Daniel Hayles, a jazz pianist of staggering talent.

The programme opened with Little Threepenny Music, a suite of dances from Kurt Weill’s 1928 work inspired of The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay in 18thcentury England - a cynical opera based on poverty, politics, and depravity.  Weill drew on the excesses of society of the Weimar Republic in 1920s Germany.  The enlarged orchestra left aside their classical polish and threw themselves into the jazz-age.  Bold pizzicato from the cello and basses kept the tempos very brisk.  Ranging from the wistful, gentle, and dreamy Polly’s Song to Mack the Knife, there was wonderful playing from all sections, but the brass really had a ‘ball.’  Had either of my male companions looked sturdy enough to give me a whirl, I would have led the audience in a brisk quickstep up the aisle!  What a fun start to the concert.

 

Rhapsody in Blue is one of Gershwin’s most easily identifiable compositions.  The clarinet glissando and the brass introduction to the piano were spine-tingling.  Daniel Hayles gave a virtuosic and energetic performance. Piano, brass, percussion, timpani, woodwind, and strings were all up to the quick tempo changes, rubati and dreamy melodies.  The muted saxophones, ‘New York taxi horns’, beautifully executed violin and alluring piano solos made for a sophisticated and exciting performance.

 

Justus Rozemond arranged Gershwin’s Three Preludes for solo piano into an ensemble for full orchestra.  Jazz idioms, syncopation, virtuosic brass solos and the chance to enjoy the upper strings, clarinets and flutes were all present.  The large brass section of tuba, trombones, trumpet really grabbed hold of the jazz harmonies and syncopation.  Congratulations for a tightly energetic performance.

 

Duke Ellington is most well known for his talent as a jazz pianist and band leader, but he composed several major works.  The River was commissioned bythe American Ballet Theatre and first performed in 1970. It represented the flow of a river from source to sea.  Later six movements were arranged for full orchestra.  Here, the harp and percussion had the opportunity to demonstrate a variety of different features.  From small stream to broad millpond and wide flowing river, with chorale-like smooth harmonies ending in a grand finale with big band swing. 

 

Justus Rozemond, with his engaging and energetic conducting style brought the Jazz-era to life and much pleasure to the audience.  Congratulations to players, conductor, and the orchestra’s committee for their exciting programming.  The next concert will see us all back to the nineteenth century, but it was good to celebrate the twentieth century in this one.


Review by Rogan Falla

Review of May 2023 Concert: News and Updates
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