MUSIC REVIEW Beethoven burns barns, jeans swell crowd


Sunday, November 21, 2010

LITTLE ROCK — The Beethoven symphony was a barn-burner; the bluejeans business appeared, at least, to be an effective marketing tool.

For the Arkansas Symphony’s first “Beethoven & Blue Jeans” concert Saturday night at Little Rock’s Robinson Center Music Hall, Maestro Philip Mann wore jeans. The orchestra musicians wore jeans and green, long-sleeved “Beethoven & Blue Jeans” T-shirts, which were also on sale in the lobby, along with CDs by guitarist Sharon Isbin. The audience was mostly in jeans, and much larger than has been usual lately for Masterworks concerts.

Isbin, making her Arkansas debut as soloist in the Concierto del sur by Manuel Ponce (the orchestra’s way of pitching in for a statewide celebration of the 100th anniversaryof the Mexican Revolution) was in a nice black pantsuit with a pink blouse. Oh, well, you can’t win ’em all.

The Ponce concerto took a while to warm up to, though certainly not because of Isbin’s performance, which, electronically amplified, was practically perfect, with a wonderful full, rich tone.

The tonality of the first two movements, though full of infectious Latin rhythms, is a bit cool; the third, “Allegro moderato e festivo,” is delightfully bouncy, enough to lift the audience to its feet (the ovation earned an encore, Andecy by Andrew York from Isbin’s latest album, Journey to the New World).

To hear Saturday night’s performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is to finally understand what composer Richard Wagner meant when he called it “the apotheosis of the dance.”Mann’s tempos were quick, but spot on, throughout (conducting sans score, he took the fourth movement as fast as it can possibly go without causing wind section casualties). The performance crackled with the life and energy that marked Mann’s first concert on the podium but was missing fromthe Mahler symphony he conducted three weeks ago.

Curtain speeches lasted longer than the curtain raiser, Igor Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2, mostly a delight although Mann’s tempo for the lastmovement “Galop” was closer to a trot.

Isbin, Mann and the orchestra will reprise the program at 3 p.m. today at Robinson, West MarkhamStreet and Broadway, Little Rock. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761 or at the website, Arkansas
Arkansas, Pages 18 on 11/21/2010