SHELTON BERG/BERGONZI STRING QUARTET/
ESTHER JANE HARDENBERGH/ROBERT WEINER/
LUCIANO MAGNANINI/CRAIG MORRIS/DON COFFMAN/
RANDALL DOLLAHON/GARY KELLER (10-11-07)
DEAN OF UM’S MUSIC SCHOOL PUTS HIS TALENT ON DISPLAY
By Lawrence Budmen
Shelton (Shelly) Berg, the new Dean of the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, was the featured attraction at Festival Miami on Thursday. A wide ranging variety show at Gusman Concert Hall provided a showcase for Berg’ s impressive pianistic talents in both classical and jazz modes, abetted by members of the Frost faculty.
The Bergonzi String Quartet joined Berg for a briskly paced account of the Allegro brilliante from Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Berg’s exquisitely textured, sensitive musicality was complemented by outstanding ensemble playing.
Cellist Ross Harbaugh, a standout in the Schumann, essayed Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango with noble, aristocratic line and darkly vibrant sonority. Berg brought lithe rhythmic snap to Piazzolla’s “tango nuevo,” unfurling an impressive tonal palette that encompassed a cyclorama of musical hues.
Esther Jane Hardenbergh gave radiant voice to Francis Poulenc’s poetic song cycle Fiancailles pour Rire. Never overstating the score’s restrained passions, Hardenbergh’s pure soprano soared to ecstatic heights. Berg provided an astutely coordinated, discreet accompaniment.
The more extroverted, Parisian music hall glitter of Poulenc’s Trio evoked Berg’s affinity for jazz. In the songful Andante, Luciano Magnanini’s nimble bassoon became a melodic instrument. The outer movements were too frenzied and Robert Weiner’s oboe was often weak and unsteady.
Claude Bolling’s Toot Suite, a quasi Baroque jazz score, displayed the clarion brilliance of trumpeter Craig Morris, a former first chair member of the Chicago Symphony. Morris’ impeccable control and huge sound compass riveted attention. Berg captured the bluesy aura of Versperale and added foot stamping to the wild keyboard figurations of Spirituelle with bassist Don Coffman ever attentive to the beat.
With the cool jazz guitar of Randall Dollahon, Berg was really in his element. Their swinging riffs on Baubles , Bangles and Beads (by the late Miami composers Robert Wright and George Forest with a little help from Borodin) rocked the house. Burton Lane’s Too Late Now brought out the soulful side of the new dean. Berg’ s limpid pianism and introspective depth elevated a pop standard into a moody classic.
Gary Keller’s hefty big band sax joined Berg and Coffman for a high spirited jam session on Cy Coleman’s The Best is Yet to Come, an anthem for the university’s music school under its new multitalented leader.