George GERSHWIN (1897-1938)
Rhapsody in Blue (jazz band version) (1924) [16:03]
Piano Concerto in F (1925) [31:47]
A Foggy Day; Fidgety Feet; But Not For Me arr. Michael Finnissy [9:15]
The Gershwin Songbook (1932): The Man I love; S'Wonderful; My One and Only; Clap Yo’ Hands; Do It Again; Somebody Loves Me; Sweet and Lowdown; Fascinating Rhythm; Strike Up The Band; Who Cares?; Oh, Lady Be Good; I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise; Do Do Do; That Certain Feeling; Liza; I Got Rhythm [18:53]
Broadway Arrangements: Harold Arlen - It’s Only A Paper Moon (arr. Django Bates) 42nd Street Stomp (arr. Alasdair Nicholson): Cole Porter - My Heart Belongs to Daddy (arr. Gary Carpenter) Night and Day (arr. Gary Carpenter) Love for Sale (arr. Gary Carpenter): Richard Rogers - June Is Bustin’ Out All Over (arr. Django Bates): Jerome Kern - Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (arr. Michael Finnissy): Sammy Fain - I’ll Be Seeing You (arr. Alasdair Nicholson) [41:55]
Erroll GARNER (1921-1977)
Erroll’s Blues (transcribed Joanna MacGregor) [3:23]
Erroll’s Bounce (transcribed Joanna MacGregor) [2:51]
Thelonius MONK (1917-1982)
Monk’s Point (transcribed Joanna MacGregor) [2:00]
Round Midnight (transcribed Joanna MacGregor) [4:00]
Joanna MacGregor (piano)
London SO/Carl Davis
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 67830-6 [57:14 + 73:09]
Joanna MacGregor’s back catalogue is being actively promoted at the moment. It is, somewhat amazingly, getting on for a quarter of a century since her first session, which was her American Piano Classics album, recorded in 1988. And the Michael Finnissy Gershwin transcriptions there appear in this Gershwin and Broadway 2 CD slimline set from Warner Classics. Admirers of the pianist will note that her Goldberg Variations, her 4 CD Messiaen set, and the Cage-and-Nancarrow twofer are also available. I recently reviewed her ‘Live in Buenos Aires’ disc though that didn’t plunder the back catalogue.
Rhapsody in Blue features her, Carl Davis and the LSO in their September 1990 recording of the original ‘jazz band’ version. Tempo rubato is the name of the game here from the clarinet’s opening statement to MacGregor’s own flexible responses. It never distends the music or beats it out of shape however, remaining on the positive side; animated, driving, though not quite as bright and energetic as the Donohoe-Rattle performance - to cite just another English-based recording. They also play the Concerto in F very adeptly too, managing to ensure that those moments in which attention can wander are mitigated through a strong sense of characterisation. The profile of the music-making is engaging, never whirlwind and if that implies a slight holding-back then maybe that’s so; it’s not the most sweeping of performances, but it is a good and thoughtful one.
Finnissy’s Gershwin arrangements are, according to MacGregor, ‘Berg-like’. They’re certainly quite refracted, and often glacingly allusive too. The second disc gives more arrangements, this time Broadways ones, sans Gershwin - the brief MacGregor gave the arrangers was to steer off him. Each of the four - Django Bates, Finnissy, Gary Carpenter and Alasdair Nicolson - has something worthwhile to say. Bates’ It’s Only A Paper Moon is refractive, kaleidoscopic, and also includes some bibulous boogie. Similarly his June is Bustin’ Out All Over is jam-packed with incident, virtuosic runs to the fore in a quasi-Lisztian sort of way. Carpenter prefers a more up-front reworking of Cole Porter’s My Heart Belongs To Daddy where a sassy, tango-like and boogie-rich environment flourishes. Finnissy’s Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man is more convoluted, introspective, and lengthy; elusive and sectional it pays shadow homage. Alasdair Nicolson meanwhile sprinkles some impressionist droplets over parts of I’ll Be Seeing You.
The disc ends with four of MacGregor’s own transcriptions. These are taken down from disc recordings made by jazz pianists Erroll Garner and Thelonius Monk; Erroll’s Bounce and Erroll’s Blues inevitably capture the great man’s style - and big Rachmaninovian stretch. Monk’s Point and Round Midnight belong to the world of bop modernism. They all show how taken the young MacGregor was by these idiosyncratic exemplars.
Strong characterisation, engaging, never whirlwind but good and thoughtful.