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MUSIC REVIEW

New West Symphony Polishes Gershwin in Style

November 23, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD

George Gershwin's centennial this year has rightfully offered focus and an agenda to many corners of the musical world. And why not? He was an all-purpose great American songwriter, whose art threaded through pop, jazz and classical, and has been embraced in all three realms.

The New West Symphony joined the party over the weekend, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Friday (with a program repeated the next night at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center). Its all-Gershwin concert was, expectedly, SRO and light on the psyche. For the occasion, the orchestra hosted pianist Alan Feinberg, noted for his championing of 20th century music, including Gershwin.

Maestro Boris Brott and his skilled ensemble struck up a thoroughly accessible and polished evening of music. Still, though, the orchestral pastiches--Overture to "Strike Up the Band" and the truncated "Porgy and Bess--A Symphonic Picture," arranged by Robert Russell Bennett--managed to be both enticing cavalcades of familiar tunes and hollow-cored entertainments lacking much depth. The more direct and singular wiles of "Lullabye" struck a deeper emotional chord.

On the hoary, ever-seductive landscape of "Rhapsody in Blue," Feinberg seemed a bit off his mark on Friday, lagging on some passages and, at one point, losing his place. He fared better on the grand but lesser-known Piano Concerto in F, with its enjoyable graft job of jazz touches, post-Romantic swooning and light sprinklings of Modernism. It bespeaks of an optimistic and urbane time in American culture, before the sobering shocks the century had in store.

For an encore, Feinberg dusted off an unpublished, and probably unfinished, Gershwin rarity called "Sleepless Night." Though nothing fancy or revelatory, the tune conveyed that familiar, deceptively lazy charm laced with choice dissonant notes, such as Gershwin cranked out even in his off hours.

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