The Houston Symphony certainly started off this month of November with a sensational concert in Jones Hall. Titled, SINATRA’S CENTENNIAL, the program was a wonderful look back at the countless songs that have come to be closely identified with the late Frank Sinatra, whose 100th birthday is being celebrated around the world this year. It is doubtful that any such celebration could exceed the excellence of what HSO offered on this past weekend as clocks were being turned back one hour to Standard Time. How ironic that on this very weekend the orchestra would turn the clocks back even further to recognize a golden age of American music, and the golden voice of this legendary singer. It would be a night to remember.
With animated, energetic and brilliant leadership from conductor, Steven Reineke, the concert was highlighted by guest appearances from critically acclaimed vocalist & pianist, Tony DeSare, and award-winning Broadway musical star, Montego Glover. The black tie attire of the musicians was right in step with the “class” so often associated with Mr. Sinatra, and the orchestra’s thrilling opening number, “New York, New York,” only served to enhance the swinging atmosphere of the party that was getting underway. An orchestral showcase followed during “The Lady is a Tramp,” with an arrangement featuring alternating moments in the spotlight for saxophones, flutes, French horns, strings, percussion and more.
“On loan” to the symphony, for the three days of this concert, was sensational Broadway performer, Miss Glover, starring now on the Great White Way performing the role of Fantine in the current revival of Les Miserables. I like to think I “discovered” Glover, when prior to its opening several years ago, I had the good fortune to attend a preview performance of MEMPHIS, the Broadway musical that first brought her to stardom.
Looking beautiful as she arrived here on the symphony stage in a sleekly elegant charcoal & white gown, Glover promptly opened with birdlike vocal purity and perfect pitch for a splendid, “Almost Like Being in Love.” The song was skillfully paired with an equally appealing, “This Can’t Be Love.” Her radiant smile was beaming with the confidence of a performer who knew that for these two hours, she was in exactly the right place in the universe that fate had intended. How lucky for those of us fortunate enough to be on hand as she continued with a warm and glowing, “The Best is Yet to Come,” full of seductive rhythms and sassy support from the wonderful orchestra.
Next, with his matinee idol good looks and dark eyes flashing, the handsome Mr. DeSare launched into a sexy and swinging rendition of Cole Porter’s, “Night and Day.” Then, with the rich warmth of his mellow baritone, he brought elegant understatement to the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, “I Have Dreamed.” The subtlety and vocal craftsmanship of that number made it abundantly clear that DeSare was more than worthy to represent Old Blue Eyes in this memorable celebration, and that was even before the orchestra’s lush accompaniment to his infectious performance of, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
The two gifted stars then joined forces in duet for a rapid-fire and tongue-twisting, “Something’s Gotta Give,” before the delightful sudden contrast of their lazy and sweetly romantic, “Two Sleepy People.” That number prompted my guest, Kelli Estes, (founder and artistic director of Houston’s evermore popular LONE STAR LYRIC Festival & Cabaret), to remark on the “interesting and unusual harmonies” that distinguished this pairing of two brilliant vocalists. A gifted pianist in his own right, DeSare then took to the eighty-eight accompanying himself for, “I Love a Piano.” Both playing and singing, he slowly draws us in until the increasing velocity and joyful bounce of the foot-tapping piece completely takes over the room. No doubt about it, — This guy’s got it all.
Following intermission the orchestra opened with a lilting and lovely Weill/Reineke arrangement of “Mack the Knife,” highlighted by a fine trumpet solo. Then Glover returned to the stage for two selections from the aforementioned Tony Award-winning musical, MEMPHIS. First came the lashing ferocity of, “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Kiss.” That was followed by the heartbreak, longing and exploding blues power of the song, “Colored Woman.” DeSare then returned with more of his dazzling artistry on the ivories as the two joined forces again for a playful duet of, “You Don’t Know Me.” Continuing to shine on the keyboard, DeSare showed consummate “cool” with his easy going, “Just in Time,” and then proved his skill as a storyteller when he shot into the saloon song stratosphere with his haunting delivery of the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road). I noted that he brought such unique delicacy to the lyric line, “… it soon might explode…,” that he may well have surpassed the master with that phrase. At the conclusion of that song the audience seemed in a mystical state of suspended animation as Glover returned to the stage. This time she would offer a fitting tribute to songstress, Billie Holiday, seeming at once to soar heavenward during her shimmering delivery of, “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
As the concert closed and the audience cheered, the duo would join the orchestra for a sensational encore medley featuring samplings of, “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “The Summer Wind,” “Witchcraft,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “All the Way,” and of course the requisite reprise of, “New York, New York.” But those farewell treats would have to wait until after Mr. DeSare offered a tribute of his own tackling Sinatra’s signature song, composer Paul Anka’s enduring classic, “My Way.” While Mr. DeSare is perhaps much too young for the long look back over a lifetime that the song implies, one feels certain that with his talent he will one day lay claim to the kind of rich history that was Sinatra’s heritage. Nevertheless, in the masterful hands of our brilliant Houston Symphony, DeSare’s thrilling voice has already arrived, and Miss Glover’s wonderful instrument needs no further validation from this humble critic. BRAVO and BRAVA!
The Houston Symphony will perform Prokofiev’s ROMEO and JULIET November 27, 28, & 29, 2015. For tickets and information call 713-224-7575 or visit the website at www.houstonsymphony.org.