Gershwin is almost an American national treasure. He espoused jazz when the idiom was not yet considered respectable, and brought it into the opera house, the very bulwark of conservative respectability. His influence is ingrained in the world's music today, but sadly, some of his own compositions sound dated.
Paul Hill brought a pleasant sampling of Gershwin's music to the Kennedy Center yesterday afternoon.
There were selections from "Porgy and Bess." This is probably Gershwin's most enduring music, perennially fresh and delightful.
Daisy Jackson, as Bess, displayed a gorgeous voice, effortless on top and expressive throughout. Her words were hard to hear, but then she was singing over an orchestra and against a chorus much larger than opera size.
As Porgy, Samuel Bonds was accurate but dull. His singing lacked the warmth, the sneers and the laughter of Porgy's marvelous personality.
The Paul Hill Chorale sound was full of a vibrant life that conveyed real excitement. It is too bad that Hill permitted applause between each chorus, because instead of being unified in a cumulative effect of excitement, the excerpts became merely a series of solos and choruses.
Four Gershwin all-time favorite choruses opened the concert, and with an orchestra full of saxophones, they had a genuine Hollywood flavor. The two madrigals that followed were written as background music, and as background music they were probably unobjectionable. On their own, however, they were awful and saccharine.
Clearly no Gershwin program is complete without "Rhapsody in Blue," played here by pianist Haskel Small and a small instrumental group that made up in clarity what they lacked in oomph.
Small did nicely with the complex rhythms of the music, and Hill, who had trouble coordinating things initially, finished strong.