By Lawrence Budmen

While Keith Lockhart’s tenure as conductor of the Boston Pops has been artistically uneven, this young podium talent has always been a fervent advocate of classic Americana. Lockhart did not disappoint when he directed the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra in the classical and Tin Pan Alley melodies of George Gershwin on Monday at the Broward Center, presented by the Concert Association of Florida. 

Lockhart commenced with selections from the 1930 Broadway musical Girl Crazy in a terrific arrangement by another American icon Leroy Anderson. A swinging rhythm section brought authentic big band pizzazz to such standards as I Got Rhythm, But Not for Me, and Embraceable You. 

Three of the composer’s piano preludes were presented in new orchestral guise by the superb arranger Don Sebesky, whose extraordinary jazz version of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre de Printemps received its premiere in Miami several seasons ago. The bluesy clarinet solo of the central prelude was pure Gershwin instrumentation. 

Sebesky’s charts for the medley Gershwin in Love were more commercial, complete with Warsaw Concerto style piano-orchestral version of The Man I Love. Bruce Hall’ s dynamite trumpet solo and Bob Winter’s piano figurations were standouts.

Hollywood arranger Alexander Courage retained much of Gershwin’s original orchestration for an overview of music from Porgy and Bess, perhaps the classic American opera. Lockhart’s spacious phrasing, rapturous lyricism, rhythmic thrust and sense of instrumental coloration made Gershwin’s memorable tunes really shine. 

Unlike many conductors who play An American in Paris as a lightweight trifle, Lockhart took the tone poem seriously. His big boned reading highlighted Gershwin’s piquant wind writing, and evoked lush textures in the central blues and instrumental power galore in the opening and closing dance music (so memorably choreographed by Gene Kelley and John Clifford). 

Written for a 1934 concert tour, I Got Rhythm Variations was Gershwin’s last completed orchestral score. Pianist Michael Chertock played this showpiece with stylish fluency. He lacked the virtuoso mastery that Earl Wild and Leonard Pennario used to bring to this score. 

But Chertock’s version of Rhapsody in Blue was the authentic article – a power pounding, dizzying display of pianistic bravura, eloquence and cascading energy. Ian Greitzer’ s opening clarinet riff snarled.

The Pops’ quintessential encore of The Stars and Stripes Forever was never more appropriate. John Phillips Sousa was one of the illustrious music luminaries who attended the 1924 premiere of Rhapsody in Blue. A clapping, toe tapping audience obligatto complemented Lockhart’s rousing performance. 

Copyright Sun-Sentinel


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