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DVD Concert Review  "American Night"
Highlights from Porgy and Bess
Willard White (Porgy); Cynthia Haymon (Bess); Damon Evans (Sporting Life)Cynthia Clarey (Serena) and Marietta Simpson (Maria).
Rhapsody in Blue with Wayne Marshall (piano)
Songs: Someone to Watch Over Me and I Got Rhythm - Marietta Simpson and Cynthia Clarey with Wayne Marshall.
Candide Overture; Prelude, Fugue and Riffs.
Berlin Philharmoniker; Rundfunkchor, Berlin Conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
TDK Mediactive [85 minutes] EAN: 5 450270 001552.
You can obtain this from BlackStar  (below right)
Enter American Night in the search box and then select Berlin Philharmonic - American Night (DVD) (1995)

This is another DVD recording of an open-air concert, in 1995, in a Berlin Park, attended by a huge audience for an evening of light classics performed by the Berlin Philharmonic. As in the Daniel Barenboim "Latin American Night" concert which I reviewed on this site last month, the DVD digital 5.1 sound is excellent, full bodied and well defined with first class pictures.

Rattle's Glyndebourne performances and recording of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess are justly celebrated and he brings his superlative cast to this concert. Willard White's oaken tones lend strength and dignity to the role of Porgy. He is carefree and optimistic in 'I got plenty o'nuttin'; tender in his duet with 'Bess, you is my woman now'; pained and vulnerable in 'Oh, Bess, oh, where is my Bess?'; and fatally optimistic in the rousing final aria of the opera 'Oh Lawd, I'm on my way.'

Cynthia Hayman is a honey voiced Bess warm and loving yet insecure and vulnerable. Her lovely velvety soprano voice blends perfectly with Willard White's in their duet and she is sweetly soothing in her lullaby, 'Summertime'

But it is Damon Evans as Sporting life who runs away with the show with his powerful, individual larger-than-life renderings of 'It ain't necessarily so' and 'There's a boat that's leavin' soon for New York' - what personality, what projection, what magnetism!

Wayne Marshall gives a finely nuanced, articulate and thoughtful reading of the Gershwin Rhapsody. But this is rather an uneven performance with the Berlin players - especially the brass - often playing as though they were in a Munich beer garden rather than in Greenwich Village; and the big tune is spoilt by some untidy, fuzzy ensemble playing. The clarinet soloist, however, is excellent. I would have preferred to have heard the Berlin players having much more fun with this music. The same remarks must apply for Bernstein's Candide Overture which receives a rather brisk performance and the lovely central lyrical episode would have benefited from a more relaxed pace and a warmer treatment. Bernstein's astringent Prelude, Fugue and Riffs fares much better with its biting jazzy trumpet and trombone choruses echoed by massed saxophones and a small instrumental grouping of bass, piano (Marshall again) and clarinet.

Another highlight comes in the closing stages of the concert with two Gershwin songs sung superbly by Cynthia Clarey and Marietta Simpson accompanied by Wayne Marshall. Marietta Simpson especially shines in her rendering of 'Someone to Watch Over Me' - this lady has a wonderful way of putting a song over with a smile that just radiates warmth and sincerity and a voice, particularly in its smoky lower register, to make your toes curl. Overall ***(*)


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

Reviews from previous months

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