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George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Rhapsody in Blue (1924)
Michael Tilson Thomas (piano/conductor)
New World Symphony Orchestra
An American in Paris (1928)
Concerto in F for piano and orchestra (1925)
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
New World Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas
Recorded 26-7 January 1997 (Rhapsody), Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, Florida; 30 June 1998 (An American in Paris and Concerto), Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876 60862 2 [69.18]

 

This compilation is the obvious Gershwin collection from his concert music, though the addition of the Cuban Overture would have been a bonus. And Michael Tilson Thomas is a major talent in this repertoire, whose performances of Gershwin have been an important force on the international musical scene for some time now. On these grounds alone this disc is an important and valuable addition to the catalogue.

The Rhapsody in Blue is given in its original version. There is a later version involving full symphony orchestra that has become well known, and which works well enough on its own terms. But once heard the original concert band version, written for Paul Whiteman in 1924, becomes the clear choice. The textures are leaner, the contours more keenly articulated; so too the rhythms. Both these versions were scored by Ferde Grofé, and both are done with consummate skill and craftsmanship. Tilson Thomas has long been an advocate of this piece in this version, and his performance is keen-edged and alert, as well as very unromantic. Like an musical masterwork, the Rhapsody in Blue can survive many different styles of performance, but this one is nothing if not compelling.

The same is true of the way that Tilson Thomas conducts an American in Paris. This piece uses Gershwin’s own scoring and is particularly colourful from the very first bars, evoking the Parisian scene replete with the sound of taxi-horns. The performance is lively and dramatic to a fault, and while this brings gains, aided by a marvelously rich and detailed recording, on the other hand the line of development comes second to the distinctive characteristics of the various sections, with the result that the performance seems more episodic than it might. A case of swings and roundabouts, perhaps.

Garrick Ohlsson is one of the world’s great pianists among the current generation. Known for his Chopin and Brahms, here he tackles the Gershwin Concerto in F with skill and sensitivity. With Tilson Thomas conducting, the stylistic characteristics of the performance are never in doubt, while the taxing solo part is delivered with panache and sure rhythmic control, even in the most complex passages. But the jewel in the crown is surely the central slow movement, which is done with the utmost sensitivity and poetry.

Terry Barfoot

 



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