Of all of the George Gershwin music that seems to be woven into the fabric of many people's lives, it isn't likely that most of it was presented with the clean precision and sheer joy with which the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and its guest performers presented it Thursday night at the Tennessee Theatre.
Beginning with the rollicking Cuban rhythms of Gershwin's "Cuban Overture," written in 1932 after a couple of weeks in Havana absorbing rumba and carting home a collection of percussion instruments, the concert paused only long enough to anchor down a possible run-away piano before sliding into Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," with pianist Norman Krieger as soloist.
Opening with the sensual clarinet glissando, gorgeously played by principal clarinet Gary Sperl, "Rhapsody" was played by Krieger with both feet firmly anchored in the classical tradition but with his hands smoothly moving from classical to jazz and driving locomotive rhythms as cleanly as I have ever heard "Rhapsody" played.
As gorgeously as Krieger played, conductor Lucas Richman and the KSO matched it with lush, glowing passages.
"Rhapsody" isn't a dialogue between orchestra and piano, the way the best concertos engage in conversation, but more of the orchestra and piano taking turns fleshing out the story.
On the other hand, the concert version of Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess," arranged by Robert Russell Bennett, was a superb blending of orchestra, bass baritone Michael Rodgers and soprano Denisha Ballew and the Carson-Newman A Cappella Choir.
It was a richly detailed concert realization with Rodgers singing the role of the street-wise beggar Porgy, and Bess, a woman Porgy rescues from the streets of Charleston, S.C., was sung beautifully by soprano Denisha Ballew.
More than just singers, as one expects in a concert version of an opera, both Rodgers and Ballew presented their characters with conviction.
They, the KSO, the A Cappella Choir and, especially, Richman deserved the standing ovation and bravos that roared from the crowd.
Harold Duckett is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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