- 1937) Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris,
Porgy and Bess - A Symphonic Picture Morton
GOULD (1913 - 1996) Latin American Symphonette
Leonard Pennario (piano); Hollywood Bowl SO/Felix Slatkin
EMI CLASSICS 6066912 [79:29]
too good and enjoyable to be missed … see Full
Felix Slatkin, leader of the MGM Studio Orchestra and the Hollywood
Quartet, was a musician of many and varied interests. He was
father of conductor Leonard and cellist Fred, friend of Frank
Sinatra and husband of cellist Eleanor Aller. Interestingly,
his recording of Delius’s Caprice and Elegy for
cello and small orchestra was the only version available for
many years. Having feet in many different camps, he was the
obvious choice for this repertoire for he has the ability, unlike
many conductors, to be able to treat lighter music with the
respect it truly deserves.
These performances of Gershwin’s best known, and loved,
works are superb. Just have a listen to the performance of An
American in Paris and you’ll know what I mean. The
opening is so nonchalant as to be almost a throw-away statement.
As he gets going you can hear his delight in the work, and he
allows some marvellously vulgar trombone playing to intrude
on the visitor’s walk round the City of Light. But there’s
also the coolest flutes you could imagine and the most sensual
cor anglais solo. The great blues tune is given a broad sweep
and the whole performance just swings with a very well calculated
insouciance. The strings at 13:16 have just got to be heard
for their sheerly sexual sound. This moment, alone, is worth
the modest asking price! Rhapsody in Blue is as fine
a performance and it’s good to hear Leonard Pennario in
full flight. Slatkin manages to make his orchestra sound, at
times, as if it were a jazz band, and he allows the saxophones
to be heard but never to overpower the texture, as can so easily
happen. What makes these performances so good is that whilst
they are occasionally brash and vulgar - nothing wrong with
that for the music can take it, it is, after all, very extrovert
stuff - Slatkin injects real love and care. That is what lifts
these performances into a special category, occupied only by
Gershwin’s own performances and those by Oscar Levant
and Julius Katchen.
Robert Russell Bennett’s scenario of music from Porgy
and Bess although created after Gershwin’s death,
was made before Gershwin’s own suite had been discovered.
Bennett often made these kinds of pieces from vocal works he
had had a hand in bringing to life. Interestingly he made a
version of West Side Story, which is quite different
to Bernstein’s own Symphonic Dances. All the tunes
are here and what I like about this performance is that it has
a concert room feel. Never for one minute did I miss the voices
singing the tunes.
In some ways, Morton Gould’s Latin American Symphonette
is the most successful work here, because he isn’t trying
to be anything other than an entertainer. Occasionally I wonder
about Gershwin, who tried so hard to make it in the concert
hall, that he seems to be trying too hard. No such problems
with Gould. He truly was equally at home on Broadway, in Hollywood
and in Carnegie Hall. He, certainly, was a more all-round composer.
The title Symphonette came about because Gould noticed
that there were, in many homes, kitchenettes and similar things
so he thought that perhaps music should be brought up to date.
Thus he wrote a Concertette for piano and four Symphonettes
for orchestra - the famous Pavan is the middle movement
of the 2ndSymphonette. He later
regretted the titles but I cannot see why for here is one of
the most joyous pieces I know. The four movements are a rumba,
tango, guaracha and a final, riotous, conga. They make an enjoyable
suite which is infectious in its charm and good nature. The
orchestration is brilliant and always interesting. Slatkin’s
performance is exemplary, if not quite matching Howard Hanson’s
superb mono Mercury recording (which appears not to be available
at the moment) which has a sweep so extrovert that one is carried
away with the fiesta the orchestra unleashes upon you. Slatkin
is less Spring Break than Hanson, but more Fourth of July. Nevertheless
this is excellent and it completes a disk I could not be without.
The sound is very good with a rich and full-blooded bloom. You’d
never guess that they were all made over fifty years ago!
This is far too good and enjoyable to be missed.