Peter Nero, with the Spokane Symphony Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Opera House
Peter Nero knows his way around a keyboard, no question about that.
He also isn’t afraid to put his back into his work, pounding out chords and crescendoes with an almost aerobic intensity.
The result was a Spokane Symphony SuperPops concert that was a crowd-pleaser from most standpoints. We definitely felt we were getting our money’s worth, in terms of sheer quantity of notes. Nero’s personal credo apparently is, “Why play one note when a glissando will do?”
The high point of the show, for my taste, was his medley of tunes from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” As arranged by Nero, it explored the entire dynamic range of piano and orchestra, from the fast and raucous festival feel of “America,” to the quiet, almost meditative feel of “Tonight” and “Maria.” On the latter tune, he sat hunched over the keyboard, pouring emotion and feeling into the sparest of phrases.
I have never heard these Bernstein melodies performed with as much force, innovation and imagination.
Another highlight was his big Duke Ellington finale, in which he played a medley consisting of classic Ellington tunes, including “Satin Doll” and “Take the A Train” (the latter written by Billy Strayhorn, but a signature piece for the Duke). This medley showed off his considerable jazz improvisational skills.
However, I was not quite so enamored of other parts of this show.
For one thing, Nero did not use the orchestra to great effect. I would guess that about 75 percent of this show featured Nero, his bassist, and his drummer jamming away furiously, while the Spokane Symphony sat there and watched.
Now, I was willing to cut Nero some slack for this. The man is a jazz pianist, and we did come to hear him play jazz piano. But as the concert crept into its third hour, I began to wish he would have used the symphony better in his arrangements. When Henry Mancini played a SuperPops concert with the symphony two years ago, I recall that his arrangements showed off the orchestra to great advantage.
Without the orchestra, Nero came perilously close to sounding like the lounge pianist in the biggest piano bar in town. This is partly because of his predilection for Liberace-style flourishes, and partly because he seems over-enamored of one or two piano gimmicks.
For instance, he loves to use the Victor Borge-like trick of playing the same tune in the style of different composers. At first, this was amusing, as when he performed a Jerome Kern tune as if performed by Chopin, and the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” as if composed by Mozart.
However, by the end of the concert, when he launched into a Mozartian version of - I kid you not - “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” the novelty had worn off.
Or maybe I had simply had enough of Nero. Including the intermission and the encore, the show pushed twoand-a-half hours. There is wisdom in that show-biz axiom, “always leave ‘em wanting more.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.