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CD: AmazonUK
Download: Classicsonline

George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Who Cares: The Gershwin Songbook for Piano and Orchestra adapted and orchestrated by Hershy Kay for the Balanchine ballet (first performed:1970) comprising:
Strike Up The Band [2:27]; Sweet and Low Down [2:52]; Somebody Loves Me [2:54];
Bidin’ My Time [2:20]; ‘S Wonderful/That Certain Feeling [3:38]; Do Do Do/Lady Be Good [3:42]; The Man I Love [4:28; I’ll Build A Stairway to Paradise [2:08]; Embraceable You [3:09]; Fascinatin’ Rhythm [2:12]; Who Cares? [2:17]; My One And Only [2:28]; Liza [1:52]; I Got Rhythm [3:23] [39:59]
Porgy and Bess (1934/35): A Symphonic Picture for Orchestra (the arrangement of material from the opera by Robert Russell Bennett in 1942) [24:10]
Cuban Overture * (1932) [10:52]
Promenade (Walking the Dog) – from the film, Shall We Dance 1937 [3:19]
Viv McLean (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Lee, John Baltimore*
rec. Air Lyndhurst Studios, London, 30-31 May 2007
Experience Classicsonline

George Balanchine conceived a ballet using some of George and Ira Gershwin’s most popular songs, as listed in the heading of this review. These were arranged by Hershy Kay who had orchestrated Candide and On the Town for Leonard Bernstein. Kay’s orchestral treatment made extended use of Gershwin’s own keyboard versions of the songs. Balanchine wrote, “George’s music is so natural for dancing … He spoke often to me about wanting to write for the ballet …’ Balanchine’s ballet, Who Cares, was first performed by the New York Ballet on 5 February 1970. Lee conducts a vivacious performance playing to the emotions of each song. Pianist, Viv McLean is a spirited and enthusiastic jazz soloist. Note: listeners must remember that these are arrangements and as such each will be appreciated or not, according to individual taste.

I will confess to a long-time admiration of Robert Russell Bennett’s wonderful symphonic arrangement of hit numbers from Gershwin’s masterpiece, Porgy and Bess include: Summertime; It Ain’t Necessarily So; Oh Lord I’m On My Way; Boat Leaving Soon For New York; I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ and Bess, You Is My Woman Now. I will always remember with great affection the vitality of the treasured 1975 John Pritchard recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Another recommended recording is that by Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Sony (see review). This new recording has a lot going for it too: evocative, slyly witty, and sweetly sentimental. The playing is so full of élan you can visualize the RPO having tremendous fun. 

Gershwin made his own orchestral précis of his Porgy and Bess music, entitled Catfish Row. You can hear this on the recommended 1997 recording on RCA (see review). 

The witty and jauntily evocative Promenade (Walking the Dog) underscored the scene in Shall We Dance when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are walking the dog on the liner deck. This little gem was probably Gershwin’s very last instrumental composition. Lee realises the scene’s quirky, wry humour. 

The Cuban Overture was the result of a holiday Gershwin took in Havana in 1932 ‘two hysterical weeks, where no sleep was had’. The composer was fascinated by the street and club music. He brought back many colourful instruments including: bongos, maracas, claves and a gourd. He also took the opportunity to study the music of Ignacio Piñeiro. The result was this Cuban Overture described as an orchestral Rumba with a score that instructed that the exotic instruments were to be used and placed in the front of the orchestra. Baltimore leads the RPO in a colourful, sultry performance although it lacks something of the exhilaration of Previn’s celebrated EMI recording. 

This new RPO recording faces a lot of competition but shows up very well both in terms of performance and sound. 

Ian Lace




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