Gershwin’s “Summertime” brings back the summer

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REVIEW Frankfurter Neue Presse
Bettina Boyens

Classical : The HR Symphony Orchestra started its season in the Alte Oper Frankfurt with an American programme.

The HR Symphony Orchestra started the new season energetically with a colourful, upbeat music programme by American composers under Andrés Orozco-Estrada, in his sixth season as Principal Conductor. Under the title “Porgy and Bess”, the Cape Town Opera Chorus succeeded with an intimate interpretation of the African-American influenced opera by George Gershwin. Right from the start, the powerful introduction captivated the audience and left them anticipating an exceptional creative performance this season.

With Samuel Barber’s “Toccata Festiva” Op. 36 from 1960, the Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna presented her first concert work as the new Artist in Residence, in which she performed the virtuoso organ cadenza per pedali (with the feet) as highlight of the impressive work.

Her performance was followed by a dreamy interpretation of George Gershwin’s tone poem “An American in Paris”. With this piece, composed in 1928 and described by Gershwin himself as a “rhapsodic ballet”, the young Gershwin wanted to portray almost tangibly the urban life and rhythm of the French world metropolis.

Orozco-Estrada and his orchestra succeeded masterfully in sketching Paris in all its colour and splendour. As a matter of fact, one could almost walk with Gershwin while he wandered around the romantic city along the Seine for two months and follow how he experienced the sounds of the city, from the noisy streets to the elegant life in the area between the Champs Elysees and the red light district around the mills of Montmartre. Even how he responded to taxi horns, which he incorporated directly into the score.

After the break, the scene changed from Europe to Charleston in Northern America, or to be precise, to Catfish Row, which set the scene for Gershwin’s famous hit opera “Porgy and Bess”.

The US soprano Adina Aaron’s warm soprano voice created an elegiac mood in her performance of “Summertime”. Baritone Musa Ngqungwana from South Africa, standing in at short notice for Nmon Ford who had taken ill, was convincing as Porgy in the duo with his adored Bess “You is my woman now” and brilliant as the cool Sportin’ Life in “It ain’t necessarily so”.

The Cape Town Opera Chorus, always enthusiastically celebrated in Frankfurt, could not contain their exuberant temperament for a moment longer. The powerful singers from Cape Town not only sang impressively as soloists; they jubilated, clapped their hands rhythmically and in closing proudly raised their fists to tell the world in no uncertain terms: “Oh Lawd, I’m on my way”. A huge wave of appreciation and approval filled the auditorium, followed by thunderous clapping. It was probably an expression of the general consensus of having experienced a sparkling start to the new concert year.