Adagio for Strings, Op.11a
West Side Story – Symphonic Dances
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley
Reviewed: 22 February, 2018
Venue: David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Joshua Gersen, assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, led masterworks by three musicians whose contribution to American history is immeasurable, and Gersen’s impressive reading of each one drew playing of brilliance and flawlessness.
Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings was well-paced; Gersen shaped the long lyrical lines evenly with the arching phrases evoking an image of flowers blossoming and then receding. His approach let the meditative solemnity of the music come through without unnecessary pressure and brought a tear to the eye.
Courtesy of Irwin Kostal and Sid Ramin, the Symphonic Dances based on West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece for the theater, consists of nine sections without pause. It encompasses the full scope of the music Bernstein wrote, including ‘Somewhere’. Gersen reveled in the jazz and Latin rhythms, giving ‘Mambo” extra drive, and ‘Rumble’ was a powerhouse!
Aaron Copland’s Third, one of the great American Symphonies, was composed during the early-to-mid nineteen-forties for Koussevitzky and incorporates the earlier-written Fanfare for the Common Man. Gersen has undoubtedly devoted much time to studying the score and conducted without it. What was most engaging was how skillfully he shaped each of the four movements, expertly building to climaxes of majestic power and drawing out the restful spirit of more somber passages. Resilient brass made the Scherzo reverberate throughout the hall, punctuated by timpani strokes, music of spirited character, and its Trio and the subsequent slow movement were sensitively handled. The transition into the Finale was led by flutist Robert Langevin, and when the brass took over with the Fanfare these players’ magnificent tonal brilliance and extraordinary precision were outstanding. The woodwinds’ bright sheen, and the strings’ virtuosity, gave the frolicking dance music that emerges effervescent buoyancy and all enhanced the triumphal character of the closing peroration.