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  Classical Editor: Rob Barnett  
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George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Rhapsody in Blue (1923) [13:43]
An American in Paris (1928) [18:32]
Broadway Overtures: Oh Kay! [7:06]; Funny Face [550]; Girl Crazy [5:41]; Strike Up The Band (1927) [7:07]; Of Thee I Sing [4:36]; Let 'Em Eat Cake [8:19]
Promenade: Walking the Dog [2:54]
Fascinating Rhythm [3:36]
George Gershwin (1925 piano roll)
Columbia Jazz Band (Rhapsody);
New York Philharmonic Orchestra (Paris); Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (overtures); Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (Promenade; Fascinating Rhythm); Sarah Vaughan (vocals), George Gaffney (piano), Andy Simpkins (bass); Harold Jones (drums) (Fascinating Rhythm)
Conductor: Michael Tilson Thomas
rec. CBS 30th Street Studio, NYC, 23 June 1976 (Rhapsody); Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher), NYC, 11 Feb 1974 (Paris); Kleinhaus Hall, Buffalo, NY, 12 May 1976 (overtures); Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, 21 Oct 1983 (Promenade); 1-2 Feb 1982 (Fascinating)


The CBS project to have ‘Gershwin’ play the Rhapsody alongside a modern jazz band has a Jurassic Park flavour to it.

In 1925 Gershwin made two Duo-Art piano rolls of the Rhapsody incorporating orchestral material into the arrangement. How to extricate the piano solo part? Andrew Kazdin, Tom Sheppard and Mark Goodman identified the holes reproducing 'orchestral' notes and closed each one of them. End result - rolls that reproduced Gershwin's solo. Now to find a working Duo-Art mechanism attached to a high quality piano. Mark Goodman owned a good ‘reproducer’ grand. William J Santanella of the International Piano Archive repaired the Duo-Art mechanism and ensured an optimum fitting to the piano. The conductor chosen was the young Michael Tilson Thomas. The Columbia Jazz Band was brought together specially for an event that belongs up there with Mackerras's realisation of the Janáček operas and Rooley's Dowland.

Grofé orchestrated the Rhapsody for Gershwin and that first version was for a jazz band comprising five different registers of sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, two trumpets, two horns, two trombones, tuba doubling double bass!, various percussion, celesta, banjo, second piano and eight violins. Washington's National Symphony Orchestra had fortunately performed this orchestration before the project had happened and gave permission for CBS to use the performing materials here.

If you compare this with Bernstein or Previn you will find this version faster, more sexy, scarifying, more caustic and bruising. It lacks the adipose affluence of the full orchestra and the sassy upbeat acid strips away the accretion of softening injected by years of performance practice. This acts like a cleaning up; HIP for a work from the 1920s. Despite the passage of a quarter century or more, the performance sounds anarchically rude and forthright.

The ballet An American in Paris is here in a single track, this time with full orchestra: bubbly, over the top, sighing and bluesy.

The 1970s recording of the Broadway overtures marked the return of the Gershwin shows to the classical fold and their rehabilitation on record. Revivals sprang up everywhere, people started to dig out authentic performing material in store since the 1920s. They threw out Hollywood glosses and searched for a dangerous intensity. They were even prepared to embrace the wince-making naffness of some of the 1920s and 1930s authenticity. That said, the versions recorded here are arranged by Don Rose for full orchestra rather than for the original 18 to 22 players; exactly the opposite approach to that adopted for the Rhapsody. These curtain-up potpourris bristle and bustle along with songtunes served up as saucy hors d'oeuvres. Funny Face has some soupy French-style waltzes but softened by Hollywood and there is even some affectionate Tchaikovskian fun at 05.00. Girl Crazy weaves its main Ethel Merman hit I Got Rhythm into the Palm Court frilly luxury of it all. If any of this reminds English listeners of Constant Lambert's Rio Grande that would be quite natural. You can also hear the Gershwin influence on Stephen Sondheim's early A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. The last three of the six Broadway overtures are to shows in which satire played a strong part. The words for these were by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. They are all magical provided you prepare to suck a lemon at times to offset the occasional sentimental excesses. Let ’em eat cake is amongst the best with its aggression not softened and its use of the stamping railroad attack. Who knows, this violence is perhaps a generalised echo of the rise of Nazism and the defeat of benevolents such as the murdered Dolfuss in Austria. The show followed the fortunes of the man who rose to the presidency in Of Thee I Sing. That earlier show has an overture which speaks of megalomania in the figure used for the cry of 'Wintergreen for President'. Wintergreen, the man who stood for ‘Love’. Let ’em eat cake shows Wintergreen’s decline. As a show it did poorly by comparison with its predecessor.

MTT uses the same Kleinhaus Hall that Lukas Foss had used with the Buffalo folk when they made the Nonesuch LP of the Sibelius Four Lemminkainen Legends back in the 1960s. MTT puts the Phil through their Broadway paces in the overtures.

The Promenade, complete with orchestral piano, must reflect a very well behaved dog as its minces along - the very picture of composure and obedience.

Sarah Vaughan’s treacly swallowing consonants and vowels is here in unflinchingly echt style. Her Lamborghini accelerations are a trademark of a great voice displaying lip-smacking torque. This is a real champagne celebrity performance.

Outstanding and fascinatingly detailed notes by Andrew Kazdin and Kay Swift. A pity that Kay Swift's notes did not give dates for the overtures. There is nothing about the bonus tracks. The notes are from the original LP releases and the cover includes that superb line drawing by Hershfeld (who also did a superb drawing of Karol Rathaus for the Centaur release). It is an affectionate cartoon of MTT conducting while the shade of Gershwin, sitting at the piano, chews an enormous smoking guitar.

Sony offer meticulous discographical detail for the recording anoraks amongst us.

A classic meriting an outright recommendation.

Rob Barnett

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