Monday, January 24, 2011

Bernstein and Gershwin with NSO/Eschenbach and Barto

I was sorely disappointed with the NSO/Eschenbach performance on January 24th, 2011. The Lieberson piece Remembering JFK (An American Elegy) combined pompous declamation with cinema-lite score that tried to illustrate talking points. Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story lacked verve, color, and character. And the main attraction, Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, simply fell and felt flat; there was no spark, mastery, or inspiration in this performance by Florida pianist Tzimon Barto. I have to agree with Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith:
Tzimon Barto (once upon a time, just plain Johnny Barto Smith, Jr., from a town near Orlando) is a body-building, multi-lingual, novel-writing keyboard artist who has a long association with Eschenbach in concert halls and recording studios. The conductor hears in the pianist more qualities than some of us do.
I found myself mostly frustrated [...], first by the incredibly slow tempos that kept overriding Gershwin's own energetic pulse; and then by Barto's playing. There were flashes of bravura and of intriguing poetic nuances, but there wasn't quite enough technical dazzle or richness in tone to keep things fully interesting.
The pianist apparently thinks of the concerto as Gershwin's attempt to out-do Rachmaninoff, an approach Eschenbach embraced with a conviction you had to admire. I'm far more open to extremes than many of my colleagues, and I really wanted to buy into this exercise in elongation, this search for profound depths amidst the Charleston rhythms, but I just kept missing the guy I recognize as Gershwin.
Smith, T., National Symphony marks JFK anniversary with new Lieberson work, Baltimore Sun, January 23, 2011.

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