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.
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
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.
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
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.