Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Rhapsody in Blue
An American in Paris
Cuban Overture
I got Rhythm
Prelude No.2
Rialto Ripples

William Tritt (piano)/Harolyn Blackwell (soprano)/John O'Conor (piano)/Erich Kunzel/Cincinatti Pops
Recorded 1981-1997
TELARC CD-80542 [72.02]

This is a compilation of eight tracks from five CDs previously issued by Telarc so take care if you want to avoid duplication, the downside of 'The Best of……' promotions. Frankly I found Tritt's performances of the Rhapsody and the Variations prosaic, technically assured but dully monochrome, while, in the Rhapsody, Kunzel takes a very slow speed for the second big tune with the result that it all rather loses its way and sinks into a treacly wash of sentimentality, while in the Variations there are some sour sounds in the upper register of the first violins at times. An American in Paris fares better and produces some fine playing from the Pops orchestra. There's a buzz of Parisian traffic from the outset but the secret of this piece, to avoid making it sound like the accompaniment to a Walt Disney cartoon, eludes Kunzel on the whole. In Summertime Blackwell's voice is not to be dismissed, but from the point of view of style it is too prone to operatic vibrato with a tendency to linger excessively in the phrasing as if she were singing a Puccini aria. One suspects the culprit is another of Kunzel's slow tempi at work here. The Cuban overture has an idiomatic performance, some of the best playing by the orchestra on the disc - you can smell the Havana cigars here. The reputation of the strings is restored by their warm-toned muted sound in a Lullaby which has both charm and warmth, nicely taken solos. The Rialto Ripples Rag, far too short at two and a half minutes, is great fun down to the (literally) final whistle and makes one wish there were more. A smoky Prelude concludes the disc, one that he wrote in 1926 and one in which the second subject could lead effortlessly straight into the Rhapsody in Blue. With John O'Conor it is in a safe pair of hands. I always feel dissatisfied with anything which presumes to label music as 'The Best of'. This disc does nothing to make me change my mind. The listener, after all, is the best judge of what is and what is not the best..

Christopher Fifield

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