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Review: Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra - American Night @ SDH

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 13/07/2015 at 15:44
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Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra - American Night
Saint David's Hall, Cardiff
Saturday 4th July 2015

From my first music review on TheSprout to this most recent one, how have I not attended a single concert of our Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra since? Perhaps it's their over familiar programmes, or maybe I've just been too busy.

One thing was certain; I couldn't miss this American concert on Independence Day, which is also my birthday (which is a weird thing when you don't hail from the US). This would prove to be the perfect way to spend a birthday, without the mindless excess of booze and gifts people tend to have bestowed on them on the day of their nativity.

The music featured in this special concert was a brilliant mix of classic American compositions and some surprises to also keep us enthralled. The familiar Liberty Bell March by Sousa (famous as the Monty Python opening) was a pompous opening, filled with merriment and catchy melodies. Gershwin's Girl Crazy Overture featured the classics Embrace Me and I Got Rhythm, which are some of his best songs.

The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story is a blockbuster piece. In composing for Broadway, the opera house or the concert hall, Leonard Bernstein proved his great diversity. In his best work, West Side Story is considered one of the greatest musicals ever written and this can be proved in the Symphonic Dances. This bolstering soundscape from the show is a devastating experience. The entire orchestra clicking their hands in the Introduction, shouting during the electrifying Mambo or the beyond funky Cool are the loud and stupendous highlights. However, the more gentle moments in I Have A Love and Maria are also noteworthy for their lyricism and sincere melodies. If you want to hear the score listen to the video above...

An unexpected thrill came from the Glenn Miller scores for brass players, after the interval. We got to the famous Moonlight Serenade (not to be confused with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata), In The Mood and A String of Pearls. These iconic works are what would have played as our grandparents danced the night away in smoky parlours and fancy ballrooms. They are as super today as the day old Glenny wrote them.

Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings felt like the one piece that didn't work with everything else. Very moving and heartfelt, his work is heard in the films The Elephant Man, Platoon and Amelie (you may recall William Orbit's remix). It's sound almost travels into Middle Eastern sonorities in its seething lamentations.

Aaron Copland's music has helped define the "American sound" in music. His ballet Rodeo is as American as apple pie. The Four Dances taken from the show are appealing and have some eccentric things going on. In the Saturday Night Waltz, the string players sound as if they are tuning up again in the score, somehow evoking a Wild West vibe instantly. The hoedown is also grand, our feet tapping in approval.

We finished the night with the Flying Theme from E.T. by the brilliant John Williams. This filled in me childhood memories of the wonderful film and also trying to get out the imagery of the "Lucas" like CGI rehash of the alien and other effects in a latter version of the film. The encore had to be The Stars and Stripes Forever (along with conductor Malcolm Ball giving us a funny story about Sousa in Aberdare). We all clapped along without any sign of an American in sight. My plus one and I spoke of 'Merica!' in the grandest of ways and to be proud of America and its people.

A fabulous way to spend a birthday.

Americans sure know how to write fantastic music!

Rating: 4 stars

Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra feature at the Welsh Proms and return for a season of new concerts in October. Their concert on Friday 18th March 2016 asks the audience to request their favourite overtures to play on the night. Details on how to request are to be declared soon.

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