Marsalis Concerto in D, Barbican, London — ‘Vivid, restless’
Contrary to some preconceptions, classical music has always opened its arms to outside influences. In the US, jazz and classical have enjoyed a particularly fruitful courtship. If there ever were boundaries that mattered, they disappeared long ago. Gershwin, Copland and Bernstein have all been there, so Wynton Marsalis is in good company.
Following his Swing Symphony and Blues Symphony, jazz trumpeter Marsalis has re-entered the classical arena with a Violin Concerto. It was written specifically for Nicola Benedetti — they met 10 years ago at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center — and the Concerto in D has sprung from a note-by-note collaboration between the two.
It is a big piece. The premiere on Friday clocked in at more than 45 minutes, giving the Brahms and Tchaikovsky concertos a run for their money. And it feels even longer. That is not because Marsalis’s concerto is boring — far from it — but because it hops so restlessly from one idea to the next that it is hard to hear where it is going. The programme note talked of an “underlying story” visiting, among others, a circus and a church. What we experience is a dizzying ride through an awful lot of musical landscapes — a dewy-eyed Mahlerian daydream, a comic duo (trumpet and trombone) romping across a silent film set, a lazy, blues-tinted day down South, and finally a raucous hoedown — or was it a Gaelic ceilidh? The colours are vivid. The rhythms rock. The orchestration is inventive. Did it all add up? Sadly no, though the journey was entertaining.
The violin part sounds tortuously difficult and Benedetti performed a heroic effort with it, but the giant solo cadenza defeated her — far too long, too much aimless plucking and squeaking. More fun was had among the ranks of the London Symphony Orchestra and under American conductor James Gaffigan the players let rip.
They did the same in a punchy performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, the balancing work in the second half. To top and tail the concert Gaffigan turned to Bernstein, jazzy and unbuttoned in Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, mawkish in the Chichester Psalms.
by Richard Fairman
Source: Financial Times