City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra: Bernstein and Korngold: West Road Concert Hall June 29
Robert Hodge and the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra brought their current season to an end on Saturday with a scintillating all-American, Hollywood-themed programme of music by Korngold and Leonard Bernstein.
‘The Great Lover’, one of Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes from ‘On the Town’, hits the audience full on, from those first six notes on the trombone that capture the very essence of the New York setting, to the sprightly, brassy and well-known up-tempo ‘Times Square’ with its periodic bluesy walking-pace sequences that anticipate the later score for ‘West Side Story’.
The Gershwin-inspired ‘Lonely Town’ containing a soulful muted trumpet passage was the jewel of the three. The strings section of the CCSO made a simply wonderful sound in this episode to communicate the deeply affecting power of one of the loveliest songs ever written – watch Frank Sinatra sing it live on TV in 1960 [You Tube] to appreciate not only what could be done with it vocally, but also to understand just precisely why he was who he was.
In some ways Sinatra walked like a ghost through the concert, in our recollections of him as ‘Chip’ in Hollywood’s ‘On the Town’ and, as a native of New Jersey, in his close association with the Hoboken setting of ‘On the Waterfront’ whose music concluded it. It was Sinatra, too, who got passed over in favour of Marlon Brando for the central role in that film.
But this is to anticipate. Korngold’s violin concert in D major, op. 35 reflects its composer’s return from his highly successful Hollywood scores to the classical world of his origins. To play it on Saturday was the much-praised and award-winning violinist, Michael Foyle.
It was obvious from the outset that Foyle was completely in command of this composition whose first two movements are full of deeply Romantic melodic invention, giving way in the third to an urgent galloping staccato, followed by a hurrying dash, with something of the film score still evident, to its conclusion.
Foyle showed obvious enjoyment in playing the concerto and played outwardly ‘to’ the audience as though to share his love for it, rather than being too inwardly involved with its beguiling sentiment. His refined performance of the second movement ‘Romanze’ in particular was absolutely hypnotizing.
Korngold’s ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood Suite’ opened the second part of the programme, the incidental music for one the most memorable of action movies, starring Errol Flynn as Robin (1938).
The four sequences, a lilting ‘Old England’, strident ‘Robin Hood and his Merry Men, expansive ‘Love Scene’ and exciting ‘Fight’ tested the orchestra to the maximum. It was a delivery whose lovely ending couldn’t fail to evoke memories of Hollywood’s golden era. As the concert programme remarked, when someone once said to André Previn that ‘Korngold sounds like Hollywood’, Previn responded, ‘Oh no. Hollywood sounds like Korngold’.
Bernstein’s only score written exclusively for a film, the ‘Symphonic Suite’ for ‘On the Waterfront’ concluded the concert. The ‘mob’ in this film looks ahead to the gangs of ‘West Side Story’, and the music, which exploits practically every instrument of the orchestra, is a combination of lyricism and menace perfectly accommodated to the movie’s narrative.
Bernstein always kept percussionists very active, and there was some excellent playing from that section as well as from the saxophonists, flautists and oboists who provided haunting passages of much atmosphere.
Music from the movies has been very well represented by CCSO recently, and there is hopefully more of it to come from Robert Hodge and this very well patronised and talented orchestra.