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Review: Simon and Garfunkel retrospective too fussy in arrangements in some pieces

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 10:19 p.m.

The Century II Convention Center was aglow with nostalgia Saturday night as the Wichita Symphony Orchestra was joined by guest conductor Michael Krajewski and guest artists A.J. Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle to perform a Simon and Garfunkel retrospective.

The guest artists established an amiable rapport with the audience right from the start and sprinkled interesting facts about Paul Simon’s and Art Garfunkel’s careers throughout the program.

The playing of the orchestra was very strong. The higher frequencies were somewhat too prominent, but considering the venue, the sound was good.

The concert began with an orchestral medley titled “The Sounds of Simon and Garfunkel.” The orchestra communicated a wide range of moods and colors in the piece. While much was made by Krajewski of the enhancement the orchestral accompaniments provided to these widely loved songs, too often the arrangements were too foreign to the style or feel of the original composition.

An excerpt from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” made an attractive introduction to “America,” but other arrangements were filled with musical busy work that did nothing to amplify the composer’s original idea.

The orchestra performed consistently well throughout the evening, but Swearingen and Beedle were at their best when performing alone or during those moments when the arrangements were simple. The “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” had a nice lilt to it, and the duo’s performance of the Everly Brothers’ “Dream, Dream, Dream,” as an example of one of the influences on Simon and Garfunkel, had a warm sheen.

In the second half of the concert, attention was given to Simon and Garfunkel’s solo efforts. The orchestra performed a stilted medley of many of Simon’s hits, and Beedle sang Jimmy Webb’s “All I Know,” a song Garfunkel enjoyed success with in the 1970s.

“Scarborough Fair” and “Old Friends/Bookends” came next on the program. The arranger’s touch was more gentle on these selections, permitting the listeners to enjoy the simple beauty of Simon’s writing and the excellent musicianship of Swearingen, Beedle and the orchestra. “Bridge Over Trouble Water” started prettily enough, but as the piece built, the cluttered quality of the arrangement detracted from the power of the performance.

The final programmed song of the concert, “Mrs. Robinson,” written for the movie “The Graduate,” was followed by “The Boxer” as an encore. “The Boxer” made a strong and satisfying ending to a concert in which the sum of the parts was a little bit less than the whole.

David Baxter is a member of the music faculty at Newman University. He has performed in symphony orchestras and orchestra pits in many cities and enjoys participating in Wichita’s musical community.

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