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SILVER LININGS OF SONG GLOW UNIQUELY VIA BOLCOM, MORRIS
SYMPHONY KICKS OFF ’89-90 ENTERTAINMENT SERIES

SHARE SILVER LININGS OF SONG GLOW UNIQUELY VIA BOLCOM, MORRIS
SYMPHONY KICKS OFF ’89-90 ENTERTAINMENT SERIES

George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hart -- how can you miss with a lineup like that?

Still, the fact remains that the husband-and-wife team of William Bolcom and Joan Morris bring something very special to what would already seem a sure-fire program. Call it taste, intimacy or simply a rarefied quality of imagination. Ther eis about their performances of the music of some of this country's greatest tunesmiths a simplicity and style that put them in a class by themselves.That was plain from their appearance Friday with the Utah Symphony, kicking of this season's Merrill Lynch Entertainment Series with "An Evening of American Popular Song." Of course the orchestra did its part, maybe too much so in places. But this was primarilly a Bolcom & Morris concert, and that's what one went away remembering. That and all those wonderful songs.

I suppose it needs to be said that Morris' mezzo is not the strongest in the world. Especially up against the orchestra, she really needed that microphone (e.g., her uncomfortably hurried rendition of Scott Joplin's "Pineapple Rag"), even at the cost of some audible feedback.

But alone with her pianist husband both the voice itself and the songs it was applied to took on a unique glow. Songs like Kern's "Look for the Silver Lining," at one unaffected yet affecting (and like so many others on this program, complete with its introductory verse). Or Porter's "Easy to Love," its tender emotion going right to the heart of the song.

Nor were Bolcom's accompaniments without sensitivity, whether here or in something as flavorful as their 3/4-time rendition of Eubie Blake's "I'm Just Wild About Harry" (again, to what I take to be the original lyrics), here immensely stylish. Or the not-so-quiet desperation of Rodgers & Hart's "I Wish I Were in Love Again." Obviously no two-hour program can hope to encompass all of American popular song, even from just the first half of this century. But this came close, with in addition to the Joplin rag and another ("That Beautiful Rag") by Irving Berlin such things as Lillian Russell's "Come Down My Evening Star" (by John Stromberg) and a couple of turn-of-the-century sing-alongs, "I've Got Rings on My Fingers" and ""Meet Me in St. Louis," more successful from the Bolcoms' point of view than from the audience's.

Under Christopher Wilkins the orchestra amplified this with a Stephen Foster medley, a pair of Victor Herbert morceaux(ital.) and Kern's own "Scenario for Orchestra" on themes from "Show Boat," perhaps the(ital.) great American musical. Unfortunately the last, unlike the show, does not always live up to its aspirations, or for that matter its 25-minute length, dragging particularly toward the end. But the ominously effective invocation of "Old Man River" registered well, as did those sections where Wilkins was able to invest the piece with some needed zip.

After which the Bolcoms returned for a cabaret-style rendition, complete with black-feather boa, of Gershwin's "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," followed by an Irving Berlin group including "You'd Be Surprised" and "Let's Face the Music and Dance," this last very much in the spirit of the Fred Astaire original -- i.e., elegantly restrained.

For encores, moreover, there was more Berling -- "Always," possibly his loveliest song in what has long seemed to me one of its loveliest interpretations -- as well as Bolcom himself, namely his witty "Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surpsie," with Morris the humorously officious clubwoman.

Suggesting that an evening of his songs mightn't be a bad idea sometime. Obviously they've both had time to learn from the best.