Gershwin fans will enjoy this programme of carefully selected tunes as well as biographical readings, including letters between Gershwin and his brother and collaborator Ira. It’s a tribute that celebrates the short life of the popular composer.
What we learn is interesting, charting Gershwin’s journey through his career.
Accompanied by Susan Gormley on piano, the performers from Ensemble enter in 1920s inspired evening gowns and suits. Formed in 1983, Ensemble, as suggested by its name, focuses on ensemble work rather than solos or duets, although there are a few solo and duet songs peppered through this programme. All singers are accomplished and the voices are well matched.
The large, rounded space of the venue, St Andrews and St George’s West Church, has a resonance to the acoustics, which is lovely in the choral scenes, but did make it difficult to hear when members of the cast read excerpt about Gershwin’s life. What we learn is interesting, charting Gershwin’s journey through his career. We even hear about how he dresses for breakfast and his sartorial style on the streets of New York.
After an interval the performers return with updated costumes. The dresses have modernised and the men are now in white dinner jackets. They perform songs from the iconic folk opera Porgy and Bess and this is easily the highlight of the evening, although I also enjoyed the sublime rendering of Someone to Watch over Me in the first half.
The format of biographical information about Gershwin, followed by notable songs from the era works very well. There is some choreographed movements in the performance of the songs but it often feels awkward and for it to work it needs commitment and more precision. During the Porgy and Bess section, the placement of a music stand and the way the singers were standing blocked my view of both soloists in one song. While the shape of the space does provide some challenges, this is something that could have been minimised with more consideration of the presentation. Of course, we are here to listen, not to watch. Ensemble could well have presented the same programme with no formal choreography and it would still have been as enjoyable.