Music review: Robertson, soloists and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra triumph in Adams, Gershwin [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 06--When programming a concert, it's not enough to have a centerpiece. It's important to pack appropriate works around it, both to complement and illuminate the main composition.
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra music director David Robertson did just that over the weekend with the local premiere of John Adams' jazz-infused Saxophone Concerto. He paired Adams with another thoroughly American composer, George Gershwin, in halves that mirrored each other: a short, jaunty work to open each, followed by a concerto that demonstrated their distinctive approaches to the form.
On Saturday night, the space above the stage was a jungle of microphones and wires over and above the usual broadcast and archival recording equipment.
Robertson, alto saxophone soloist Timothy McAllister and the SLSO recorded the Saxophone Concerto for Nonesuch Records, for a CD with Adams' "City Noir," recorded last February.
The program opened with Gershwin's bright, brash "Cuban Overture." Hardly a traditional overture, it's an awful lot of fun. With Robertson nearly dancing on the podium, he and the orchestra gave a performance that was itself recording-ready.
That led to the Saxophone Concerto. Written specifically for McAllister's formidable talents, it starts off with a burst of sound, the soloist in the thick of it right from the top. At first it's a fast and rhythmic ride, carrying soloist and orchestra (and audience) along; then it slows for a slow, seductive section with a less frenetic mood. It's a temporary respite.
Having caught its breath, the concerto launches a zippy, complex conclusion that made a blur of McAllister's fingers.
McAllister was phenomenal, giving a dazzling performance that rocked the audience to its feet for a prolonged and well-deserved ovation. Robertson and the orchestra were right there with him all the way, totally connected, with notable work by associate principal trumpet Thomas Drake and principal horn Roger Kaza. Adams joined them on stage for his share of seemingly endless approbation.
The second half began with Adams' cheerily minimalist "The Chairman Dances," rendered to great effect. Then came Gershwin's Concerto in F, with pianist Jon Kimura Parker as soloist.
Parker, who hadn't performed with the SLSO in over a decade, made a welcome return. He and Robertson shaped the music superbly, Parker supplying a clear sound and fine contrasts. The boffo finish to the first movement sparked spontaneous (and deserved) applause. Robertson turned around, acknowledged it, and delivered one of his better on-the-podium lines: "We will now play two encores."
New principal trumpet Karin Bliznik took the lead with her big solo in the second movement, offering a soulful, distinctive tone. Robertson took the orchestra straight into the third movement for a dynamic conclusion to a seamless, thrilling performance.
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