Saturday, April 27, 2013

concert review NJSO - "'S Wonderful!, 'S Marvelous!, Gershwin" State Theatre, April 19

George Gershwin composed some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century.  The fact that he died so early at the age of 38, in 1937, only adds to the huge contribution that he made to the American Songbook in such a short period of time.  Classic songs like "I've Got Rhythm," "Someone to Watch Over Me," the score to Porgy and Bess and the orchestral piece "An American in Paris" are just a few of his best known pieces.  Last Friday we had the pleasure and joy of hearing an evening of Gershwin music performed by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

Under the skilled baton of conductor Gerald Steichen, the NJSO expertly played an evening filled with some of Gershwin's best known songs as well as a few of his lesser known ones. Adding to the terrific playing were soprano Katrina Thurman and baritone Jim Weitzer (who is currently playing one of the opera owners on Broadway in The Phantom of the Opera.). Both Thurman and Weitzer were up to the task at hand, though Thurman came off best, especially in the second act when her voice soared when she sang "Summertime" during a Porgy and Bess medley.

The evening got off to a rousing start with a spirited overture that included several of Gershwin's best songs expertly woven together into an orchestral piece.  Weitzer and Thurman each had several solos they performed as well as a few duos.  They had a nice chemistry together and even included a few dance moves during the more upbeat songs that they managed to navigate on the small amount of stage space they had in front of the full orchestra. 

In the first act Weitzer delivered a forecful "Swanee" and Thurman sang a charming "'S Wonderful" from Funny Face and Weitzer joined her on a lovely performance of that show's "He Loves and She Loves."   Her take on "Looking for a Boy" was simply lovely.  Their duet of "Embraceable You" was romantic and stirring.  The act ended with an expert take on "An American in Paris." Hearing this separated from the Gene Kelly film that people most know the piece from really allows you to focus on how Gershwin wrote it and how playful it is.  Gershwin flirts a little with us in how the piece moves from one style to another and even toys with us in how the ending builds and builds and then ends with a powerful flourish. 

The second act began with the Porgy and Bess medley that was just astounding.  That was followed by the humorous "By Strauss" performed by Weitzer where she got to show off her operatic skills.  Thurman charmed on "Lady Be Good" and then Weitzer gave a lovely yet forceful "Someone to Watch Over Me."  The "Cuban Overture" was perfectly played by the orchestra in a rousing, jazzy and simply amazing way.  Steichen then played the piano on a couple of selections including when Thurman sang a short but sweet take on "They All Laughed" and Weitzer delivered a torchy version of "Do It Again."  The concert ended with a rousing duet of "I Got Rhythm" and an encore of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."
The NJSO is such a great orchestra and I never tire of listening to them play. This is the third or fourth time we've had Stiechen leading the NJSO and I absolutely love how he provides important bits of information about the composer and pieces before or after each selection.  You can tell how much he enjoys the material, the orchestra and just conducting in general. 

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