Classical: If it ain't got that swing

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The Independent Culture
THE LONDON Philharmonic Orchestra calls its popular Friday night series Classics for Pleasure, which we can only assume is intended to draw distinction from the un-pleasurable experiences that so many of us choose to put ourselves through. Then there was the title of this concert: Taking Jazz Seriously. Presumably Prokofiev's Classical Symphony was slipped in for the benefit of those who didn't - take jazz seriously, that is.

Wayne Marshall - conductor and master of ceremonies - couldn't explain its presence, either. In fact, he couldn't explain much of anything, principally because he hadn't put much preparation into his introductions. If you are going to play tour guide with your audience, then you have to be focused about it. And you can't keep using the word "obviously", because obviously you wouldn't be there if it were so obvious.

The jazz connection was a little fuzzily thought through. Prokofiev apart (call that an aberration), if you are going to include Leonard Bernstein on the bill, then surely you go for one of his New York pieces, his dance music, his jam, "Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs". Good though it was to hear again, "Divertimento" - written for the Boston Symphony centennial in 1980 and rarely performed - is rather too cryptic in its musical machinations to be fully appreciated in the context of a programme like this. His songswent down rather better, thanks to the presence of Kim Criswell. Granted, she's not a natural ingenue. "Dream with Me" - a gorgeous and little-known Bernstein song dropped from his 1949 score for Peter Pan - was by no means the sweetest soprano you've ever heard.

But hot on her heels came wisecracking Ruth from Ohio with her "One Hundred Easy Ways (To Lose A Man)" from Wonderful Town, at which point those of us with any sense were taking cover. And better yet was her virtuosic rendition of Dinah's scene "What a Movie!" - from Bernstein's remarkable one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti - which isn't a number but a nervous breakdown. Shucking her concert gown for a garish South Sea sarong, Criswell left us in no doubt about that. Later, she and Marshall paid homage to Duke Ellington in his centenary year, but this mighty handful of his greatest hits didn't really sit so well in this hall. John Fox's arrangements (particularly his way with strings) got around the "symphony orchestra" anomaly, but where piano alone nursed the voice, the sound balance was too uneven.

Then again, Marshall is a better pianist than he is a conductor. It's one thing keeping tags on a jazz band - Shost-akovich's "Suite No 1" more or less plays itself - but getting Gershwin around Paris (An American in Paris) is another matter. Was he late for his plane? You'd expect a jazzer like Marshall to sink his soul into the central blues (where were those insinuating saxes?), but real freedom demands the kind of discipline (and technique) he doesn't yet have.

Repeated on 29 Jan