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George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Rhapsody in Blue (1924) [15:25]
Piano Concerto in F major (1925) [31:50]
An American in Paris (1928) [18:00]
Gabriel Tacchino, piano
Francis Le Manger, banjo
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Lawrence Foster
Rec. performance date and location unlisted DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 60818-2 [65:38]


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Any time that a recording is made of a famous composer’s best known works, the results are going to be subject to a high amount of critique. For the attempt to be successful, the performance must be flawless, the conductor well-versed in the works presented, the soloists inspired, and the recording technically crystalline. Anything short of absolute perfection lends the disc, at best, a pedantic rehashing of a music-history lesson; at worst it leads to the lower realms of a collection instructive of more what a disaster can be made of audible noise rather than a tribute to the ecstasy music can lead us to. However, when done right, it reminds the listener of why these are considered the masterworks of the genius that created them. Thus it was both with great anticipation and trepidation that I approached the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo’s rendition of Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F major, and An American in Paris. Luckily for all involved, it seems that the Apex recording under review falls in the superior category, standing as a musical tribute to the genius of Gershwin.

The version of Rhapsody in Blue presented is a joy to listen to: Gabriel Tacchino performs with truly outstanding virtuosity, and Lawrence Foster lends an understanding of the music and care to the pianist’s innuendo and sensibilities. The tempos surge to the edge of control without overstepping the bounds of good taste or musicianship. There is often a desire on the part of the pianist to put everything on display regardless of taste during the more virtuosic sections of this work, disregarding either the musical intent or the content Gershwin provides. (Emile Pandolfi’s recording of Rhapsody in Blue with The Atlanta Symphony comes to mind, for example.) However, Tacchino manages to dance along the line of virtuosity while never crossing into crass flashiness, leading the listener through a stunning display of his own technical skill while never attempting to upstage the composer.

The only mistake made is that the initial extended piano solo is rearranged for no discernable reason … there seems to be a removal of perhaps 90 seconds of piano solo in the middle of the work. I do not know why that edit was made, and believe that the performance suffers through the absence. However, that being said, Mr. Tacchino still shines, even though his opportunity is reduced, and the legs are cut out from under the genius of Gershwin.

While Rhapsody in Blue is certainly above average, the Piano Concerto in F major is truly breathtaking. All three movements are played flawlessly, with the piano and symphony in perfect symbiotic harmony. The details of the jazz rhythms are given close care, properly accenting the upbeats and adjusting the written rhythms where so many orchestras fall short. One must remember that Gershwin’s music lives in the world of jazz as well as the world of the symphony when performing it. All too often, the conductor either ignores half of the idiom or shows no understanding of it, and the orchestra sounds square. It is such a relief not to be subjected to those problems here. This recording should be required listening to any conductor or pianist considering doing any portion of the Piano Concerto.

The recording of An American in Paris is again excellent. Mr. Foster should be given high praise for his leadership. This is not an exact parroting of the 1951 film score, but is taken more as the orchestral suite that Gershwin originally intended. It is performed with great exuberance and flair throughout. There are some minor tuning problems in the saxophones and clarinets that I noticed upon repeated listening. They do not detract from the overall work however, and I would still rate this as a far above average rendition.

I will concede that of the five tracks, one could perhaps find superior recordings of each individual movement or piece. However, taken as a whole, it would be difficult to best this album. It is certainly deserving of a place in any music collection. Very highly recommended.

Patrick Gary

 



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