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Wayne Marshall Plays Gershwin *****

Jo Turbitt reviews 'an evening of phenomenal music, musicianship and melodies' that proved to be 'a monumental evening'.

Wayne Marshall and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) are a match made in musical heaven. Can this happen again, please? And then again after that?? Throughout the entire evening, Marshall’s command of the keys was exquisite—and the SCO should now include ‘Jazz’ somewhere in their title and have the full Gershwin and Bernstein catalogue in their repertoire.

This was an evening of phenomenal music, musicianship and melodies that swept us across the Atlantic to an America of yesteryear: each piece told poignant stories in each phrase, each moment and each note; each composer presenting a holistic, 4D perspective of their inspiration. Marshall, along with the SCO, brought each complex score to life with joy and honour.

At first glance, the evening’s programme read as a celebration of American composers who wrote some of the most seminal jazz works for orchestra. Look closer: it’s a programme structured with polysemy. Together the titles of all four works can be read as a political/ socio-cultural commentary on the USA as a whole: Rhapsody in Blue, Fancy Free, El Salón México and Porgy and Bess – A symphonic picture. Put them into their two acts: Rhapsody and Fancy Free paint scenes of NYC—the former giving a luscious overview of the Big Apple, the latter painting in intricate details. The second act works as a reminder of the importance of history, of stories and of diverse cultures.

I fell in love with Rhapsody in Blue 24 years ago. I thought I knew it inside-out and back-to-front! Nope! Marshall’s passion encouraged me to rediscover the magic, the joy and the complexities of Gershwin’s epic. He played with it, introducing laments to Gershwin and echoes of Jazz greats within his virtuoso solos. In Fancy Free we zoomed into the streets, the characters and happenings of the bustling city, racing from district to district, a patchwork of cultures, tones and colour. The SCO conjured up shades of life in the city, playing with such precision that I found new questions within the piece: back in 1944 was the composer actually asking ‘Fancy Free?’ – he could be writing it for 2022. Copland’s El Salón México was a new one to my ears. The work painted scenes of the Frontier, the Wild West, Nevada deserts and cacti. If you’ve not heard it, I urge you to: it’s brilliant. Our journey through America finished in South Carolina with the soulful laments and infectious syncopations of Porgy and Bess. Conducting with poise and emotion, the score running in his veins, Marshall brought extensive heights and depths to Gershwin’s score.

A monumental evening.

Wayne Marshall Plays Gershwin was part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. It performed at the Usher Hall on the 13th August, 2022.

Tags: music edfest

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