Overly familiar fare from George Gershwin was given potent and polished readings from the Broadway star Audra McDonald and Gershwin piano specialist Kevin Cole. Her sets — two from “Porgy and Bess” and later a half-hour of songs — thrived on the singer’s capacity to float admirably through Gershwin’s many modes: opera, big band, ballad and Broadway. Cole, with the aid of a heartily bluesy trumpet section, shone on a bright rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue.”
McDonald’s next album, “Happy Songs” on Nonesuch, consists of numbers from the 1920s and ’30s. Album, to be released in the middle of next month, is full of period arrangements, and David Alan Miller kept that in mind as the L.A. Phil moved from brassy big band (“Isn’t It a Pity”) to lush string accompaniment (“Someone to Watch Over Me”).
“Summertime” and “My Man’s Gone Now” were given full-blown aria-like readings, McDonald pushing her voice far from her usual Broadway phrasing. While those two tunes displayed her breadth of talent, her ability to communicate with an audience falters. It’s the less operatic show tunes where she shines, even on “Fascinating Rhythm,” a song that often gets away from singers as the accompaniment steamrollers right over them. McDonald closed with it and left the audience begging for more.
With Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture,” Miller and the Phil provided a little something out of the ordinary but otherwise supplied sturdy readings of his classics. Cole followed his “Rhapsody in Blue” with a solo Gershwin medley that started with “The Man I Love” and went through at least another half-dozen songs in rather showy fashion.