Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

George GERSHWIN Porgy & Bess (complete) Willard White (Porgy); Cynthia Haymon (Bess); Damon Evans (Sporting Life); with Cynthia Clarey, Bruce Hubbard, Marietta Simpson; Gregg Baker; Harolyn Blackwell; Glyndebourne Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Simon Rattle EMI 3CD set CDS5 56220 2 [189:32]

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Last month I reviewed Sony's reissue of the 1951 studio recording of Porgy and Bess in their Masterworks Heritage series. Clearly, at a running time of a little over two hours, that was an abridged performance. Excellent as that recording was, we had to wait until Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra made the first complete recording for Decca in 1976 with, as in this Rattle recording, Willard White as Porgy. But the celebrated Glyndebourne Festival Opera performances received world-wide acclaim and this 1989 complete production recording has been rightly acclaimed as the definitive recording of Gershwin's masterpiece - an opinion I heartily endorse. It is a complete triumph. My recommendation to purchase the Sony reissue remains but I also urge you to dig into your pocket and buy this recording too. For you now have the chance to hear so much more wonderful music; enjoy so many more riches - such as the full tragic drama of the ACT I crap game, the caustic interchange between Maria and Sporting Life "I hates yo' struttin style" and Crown's cynical aria "A red-headed woman make a choo-choo jump its track."

Willard White's Porgy has oaken strength and conviction but also an only too human vulnerability. Cynthia Haymen's Bess is alluring yet basically loving and striving to be honest and true while Damon Evan's is absolutely rivetting as Sporting Life, with his twisting, serpentine deliveries of "It Aint Necessarily So" and "There's a Boat dat's leavin' soon for New York." The Gyndebourne Chorus are first class throughout and the London Philharmonic play their hearts out for Rattle (just listen to the marvellous woodwind playing and ensemble in the "Buzzard Song" for instance). Rattle shows an instinctive understanding and complete enthusiasm for this glorious music so that he directs a performance that is often electric and always grips. This is a lusty, exuberant heart-warming recording that is an absolute must for every Gershwin lover and definitely the Gershwin recording to be reviewed on this site during our special Gershwin birthday tribute that will continue over the next two months. The 120 page booklet is very fine by the way; it carries a stimulating article about the production by Robert Kimball co-author with Alfred Simon of The Gershwins and a full libretto sumptuously illustrated by many full colour pictures from the Glyndebourne production

Ian Lace

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