This concert of American music raced out of the blocks with a dashing and athletic performance of Leonard Bernstein's overture to his opera Candide.
He employs a large orchestra, with a big body of strings and percussion, very deftly in this delightful pot pourri of operatic themes. American conductor Andrew Litton carefully built up the tension for the final crescendo, based on of Cunegonde's showpiece aria Glitter and Be Gay, which whirled into an exhilarating climax. In five minutes it displays many of the qualities that we love about American music - tunefulness, energy, generosity of spirit, lack of pretension and a certain musical wit.
Sadly these things were often in short supply when Bernstein wrote his "serious" works like his symphonies and Mass. The same thing could be said of his mentor Aaron Copland whose third symphony strives after seriousness and significance while simultaneously stifiing his lyrical gift.
Litton and the orchestra did the work proud and they thoroughly deserved the section-by-section ovation the conductor granted them. The finale's theme, the imposing Fanfare for the Common Man, is the only memorable part of the forty minute work - the rest is orchestral vamp-till-ready as we await its appearance. I'd happily swap the whole thing for the Hoedown from Rodeo.
The energetic and ebullient Litton was also the soloist in Gershwin's piano concerto and played with tremendous swagger and assurance right from his opening insouciant Chico Marx-style run up the keyboard. Gershwin was still learning his trade as an instrumental composer and seams and stitches show between sections - but such enjoyable sections! The brass were a little too staid perhaps, a little more jazz swing was needed, but over-all a splendid performance.