New York Philharmonic – Marin Alsop conducts Barber and Prokofiev – Joseph Alessi plays Chick Corea’s Trombone Concerto

First Symphony (in One Movement), Op.9

Chick Corea
Concerto for Trombone [US premiere]

Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 [selections]

Joseph Alessi (trombone)

New York Philharmonic
Marin Alsop

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 25 May, 2023
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Chick Corea’s final work received its first US performance. Joseph Alessi, who delivered its world premiere with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in August 2021, and at whose instigation Corea’s spirited and stylistically varied piece was composed, played with sparkling aplomb.

The score begins with notation “Free solo – improvised whenever.” Alessi seized the moment, serving something wonderfully crisp and jazz-inflected, then a dialogue with percussion, piano and harp, before sidling into the piece proper. A profusion of percussion adds a colorful, Latin-like palette to the four-movement score: in the blues-tinged passages of ‘A Stroll’, inspired by Corea’s walks around New York City; in the warmly lyrical ‘Waltse for Joe’ (Corea’s idiosyncratic spelling of “waltz”); in the trombone’s overlaying the harp and percussion vamp in ‘Hysteria’, composed at the start of the pandemic lockdowns; and in ‘Joe’s Tango’, where the protagonists come together in an impassioned dance before the trombone brings the piece to a heroic end with a series of high F-sharps. Alessi’s stunningly virtuosic performance, distinguished by impeccable phrasing and rich tone, was well supported by the orchestra and Marin Alsop.

Corea had expected to be present on this occasion but passed away from cancer in February 2021. In his place, his longtime friend and collaborator John Dickson, who orchestrated the Concerto, played the prominent piano part. Alessi interrupted applause to introduce Dickson and together they played a soulful account of his Danza Eterna in memory of Chick Corea.

The concert’s opener was Samuel Barber’s Symphony in One Movement in its original 1935-36 version, which compresses four-movement symphonic form into an entity (as in Sibelius’s Seventh) with many thematic interconnections. Conducting from memory and keenly responsive to the score’s daringly expressive scope, Alsop elicited a strikingly intense, firmly focused, emotionally expansive rendition, with Sherry Sylar’s oboe solo in the elegiac third section beautifully rendered, as was her duet with cellist Carter Brey.

Romeo and Juliet took up the second half, Alsop’s 45-minute compilation of twelve selections drawn from the composer’s three Suites (Opuses 64bis, 64ter & 101), organized by musical logic rather than the narrative line of the complete ballet but still making sense of the story. The NYP’s playing was captivating throughout – the energetic opening blasts of ‘The Montagues and the Capulets’, the glittering clarinet solo and the delightful flute duet in ‘The Child Juliet’, the acrobatic violins and searing brass laments in the intensely rendered ‘Death of Tybalt’ – but it was the closing ‘Death of Juliet’ that was most impressive as Alsop occasioned great sadness and lyricism and the Philharmonic strings were at their most eloquent.

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