We heard two masterpieces in this all-American programme from the CBSO, but we also heard one depressing overblown disappointment.
The first winner was Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento, a sparky masterpiece of sleight-of-hand wizardry bettering Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, allowing every section of the orchestra to shine (it was written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, so there’s a topical connection, Andris Nelsons about to leave the CBSO for that band), and consummately delivered under the efficient and empowering baton of Michael Seal.
The second was George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto, the greatest to emerge from the western hemisphere, so redolent of the aspirations of the United States, and delivered with idiomatic flair here by Freddy Kempf’s fleet pianism.
An initially staid orchestral contribution came to life once Kempf got going, the soloist positively encouraging attentive interplay between himself and the players, and his gorgeously singing cello-like tone in the lyrical episodes drawing an “anything you can do” response.
This was a performance radiating sheer pleasure, and will not easily be forgotten. And I wonder how many noticed what a debt Cole Porter’s amazing song The Physician owes to aspects of this shimmering score?
And there were debts galore in the Symphony in F sharp (such an uncongenial orchestral key) by Erich Korngold, Viennese child prodigy turned Hollywood filmster.
Long-awaited by many enthusiasts, this performance, for all its devotion and brilliance under Seal, merely revealed what a derivative dinosaur the work is.
Composed in the early 1950s, it has elements of the Bruckner who had died 60 years earlier; of Berg and of Strauss; and I do hope Korngold had asked William Walton if he minded his borrowing the scherzo from the English composer’s First Symphony.
The best way to listen to this work was to invent silver-screen images – which is in fact what Korngold was best at accompanying.
I’m afraid the horrid expression “more Korn than Gold” was very apt here.