I walked out of the Fresno Philharmonic’s weekend concert with a bounce to my step. Which should make music director Theodore Kuchar happy. The “I Got Rhythm” concert, which I saw Saturday at the Shaghoian Hall, was a polished presentation that made this world — if only for a few moments — a more percussive place .
Guest artist Orion Weiss offered intense, moving renditions of two famed rhythmic works in the concert’s first half: Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” variations; and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. Weiss is not a showy or acrobatic player. Instead, he tackled the pieces with a sort of quiet fierceness, his movements almost liquid. I suspect the temptation with Gershwin for a pianist is to pound everything out, but Weiss managed to sneak up on the syncopations with a nimbleness that reminded me of a cat of prey. I shivered when I listened to the way his final trills in the second movement of the Ravel subsided to almost a mist.
The swagger of the evening belonged to Kuchar — who’s up for a Latin Grammy award for the album “Latin American Rhythms,” which he recorded with his Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela — and especially the orchestra’s expanded percussion section, which welcomed the Fresno State Percussion Ensemble. In the great Revuletas piece “La noche de los Mayas,” the 36-minute piece built to a rhythmic climax that shook the hall. The percussion section — a great, clanging, pounding, crashing (and seductively shimmying) power — was like an inevitably advancing army, vaulting up and over a city’s walls in an unstoppable swarm. It was exhilarating.
No wonder I had a kick to my step as I left.