Bright colors filled eyes and ears at the "Grand Gershwin" program presented by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and soloists three times over the weekend at the outdoor amphitheatre. At the Friday opening, conductor John Mauceri acted as emcee, chief musical juggler and mediator of quickish tempos.
Aurally, the glare came from the primary colors in Robert Russell Bennett's song-filled suite, "Gershwin in Hollywood," the evening's overture, and from pianist John Bayless' re-thought and high-energy reading of "Rhapsody in Blue."
Visually, the brightness in the second half--devoted to excerpts from "Porgy and Bess"--concentrated in summery formals worn by sopranos Patricia Baskerville and Wilhelmenia Fernandez--the former in hot-pink, the latter in a floral print topped by a sherbet-green jacket. The male vocalists, Gregg Baker and Curtis Rayam, like the members of the Bowl Orchestra and the assisting William Grant Still Chorale, sported black formal wear.
No sense of ritual or habit marred these proceedings, despite the familiarity of the repertory. Mauceri seemed to be taking fresh stock of this music (including a rare ballet sequence from the 1937 film, "Shall We Dance"); he coaxed fluent performances from all forces.
Though his appearance--with strawberry-red hair and with real jewels attached to his ear and clothing--threatened to overpower his music-making, pianist Bayless nonetheless brought to the Rhapsody genuine stylishness, nearly infallible pianistic dexterity and a strong personality. This was no dutiful run-through of a well-known piece; this was a quirkily phrased, musically renewed consideration of its materials.
Singing "Summertime" and "My Man's Gone Now," Baskerville's impassioned performances and vocal heft overshadowed the more brief, less distinctive contributions by the vocally assured Fernandez (as Bess). Baker brought to Porgy's utterances a virile authority, strong top notes and admirable vocal coloration. Rayam's crisp enunciation and projected sense of character proved irresistible.
Attendance: Friday: 11,227.