I have to admit that this recording comes as somewhat
of a surprise since one does not associate the New Zealand Symphony
Orchestra with George Gershwin. After all Gershwin's music is assumed
to need the special treatment meted out to it by such as Bernstein and
the New York Philharmonic or Previn and the LSO. However, one would
be wrong to assume this production is their inferior in any respect.
Indeed as a recording it is a good deal superior. Naxos has once again
shown that cheap is not worse. What we have here is a first class exposition
of four Gershwin favourites (well, three favourites and one other!)
recorded in wide and deep stereo. In Gershwin in Hollywood the
arranger Robert Russell Bennett has produced a potpourri of five songs
including the magnificent Nice Work if You Can Get it and Love
is Here to Stay. The piece is the weakest on the disc as a composition
but the tunes are so good that that is of no concern. The NZSO's first
trumpet and first trombone show a real stylistic awareness and the orchestra
swings, no small thanks to the experienced James Judd at the
helm. His work with US orchestras shows throughout.
An American in Paris opens more briskly than
authentically and perhaps needs more relaxation about it. The motor
horns are certainly not as vulgar as one would like but, even though
memories of the brasher Bernstein / Previn axis are not erased, the
NZSO need fear no comparisons. The first trumpet is again excellent
and Judd shows a lovely sense of space in the quiet moments. A similar
feeling pervades the Cuban Overture which is neat, brisk and
cheerful but somehow seems to miss the hip-wiggling I recollected from
Previn. This track sent me to the shelf to listen again to Previn and,
yes, he moves more, though he only takes a few seconds less than Judd
over the piece. However, the primary thing that came over was how much
more open and modern the Naxos recording is and since the NZSO really
do get going later in the Cuban Overture one soon forgets comparisons.
The last work on this CD is Robert Russell Bennett’s
Symphonic Picture: Porgy and Bess, produced in 1943 when Gershwin’s
own suite from the opera Catfish Row was rather overlooked. Since
Porgy and Bess is such a great work, and the tunes are once again
the very best, this compilation works well and the NZSO sound fully
at home, save perhaps for the banjo which left me feeling just a touch
uneasy each time it played; the orchestra seemed to slow down a fraction
to let it catch up.
Whether or not you have several other recordings of
these works this disc will entertain and like me you will never again
doubt the credentials of this fine antipodean orchestra. The notes by
Peter Quinn are packed with interesting background and should enlighten
all purchasers with the eyesight to read Naxos’s microscopic print.
What a great series of recordings Naxos American Classics is turning
out to be!