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Soloists Lift Gershwin Program at the Bowl


One small claim to newness in the form of a song said to have been discovered recently in an old trunk turned out to be the only novelty in an otherwise familiar Gershwin program played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl twice over the weekend.

But there was nothing hackneyed in the Friday performances of the two guest soloists, singer Audra McDonald and pianist Kevin Cole. They brought high energy, abundant skills and considerable musical brightness to this agenda, 65 summers since composer George Gershwin's early death in this very city.

American conductor David Alan Miller presided over the proceedings stylishly, despite the orchestra's often raucous, sometimes unbalanced sound-profile and evident short rehearsal time.

Still, he supported his expert soloists solidly through their time in the spotlight. And, at the end, he led a very handsomely played, clearly properly prepared "An American in Paris."

McDonald, looking elegant in a two-toned shimmery gown, sang seven songs, including the unfamiliar "Ask Me Again," with a disarming directness and no pretensions. She delivers and colors the words but respects the musical line. In two "Porgy and Bess" excerpts, "Summertime" and "My Man's Gone Now," she achieved emotional purity without added fillips or jazzed-up embellishments.

The virtuosic Cole, a pianist unfamiliar to my experience, made his Hollywood Bowl debut in an audacious, ear-opening performance of "Rhapsody in Blue." Assisted enthusiastically by Miller and the orchestra, Cole reinstated Gershwin's bracing tempos--documented in the composer's own recordings--and driving exuberance through the work, delivering all its facets, but relentlessly. And he did so with a perfect technical apparatus and utter clarity.

At the end, a bowlful of Gershwin lovers hollered with approval. Cole responded with an encore, a showy and touching medley of Gershwin songs that reiterated his felicitous digitality. Again, he flew over the keyboard, hitting every note squarely on the head. Exhilarating.

The program also included the "Cuban Overture" and the overture to "Oh, Kay!" Among the featured Philharmonic players were associate concertmaster Bing Wang and clarinetist Lorin Levee, who excelled not only on "Rhapsody in Blue," but throughout the evening.

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