George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Piano Concerto in F major (1925) [33:53]
Rhapsody No. 2 (1931) [15:54]
I Got Rhythm Variations (1934) [8:53]
Orion Weiss (piano)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Kleinhans Concert Hall, Buffalo, NY, 17-20 November 2010
JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic made a very favourable impression with their rattling good Respighi – review – the conductor also leading the LSO in a first-rate recording of works by Kenneth Fuchs (review). As a band the Buffalonians strike me as a gutsy ensemble perfectly capable of giving showpieces the kick they need to succeed. That said, the LSO – in their classic Gershwin concerto with André Previn – can just as easily show the world how it should be done. That disc has been a long-time favourite of mine, and I’d urge EMI to remaster it as part of their new premium Signature series.
The young pianist Orion Weiss is new to me, so I visited his ‘Wacky, Witty, Worldly, never Woebegone Website’ to find out more. No shortage of chutzpah there, so I hoped some of it would rub off on the concerto. First impressions are good, the orchestra sounding warm and detailed from the outset, Weiss’s first entry a delightful doodle that promises much. But does he deliver? Not consistently, is the equivocal answer; yes, he’s very assured, but his performance has far less sparkle and wit than Previn’s. That said, his prominent and weighty piano is perhaps preferable to EMI’s more recessed one.
The Naxos recording is surprisingly variable too, clear and well focused in quieter passages but prone to raggedness in the tuttis. The second movement turns the tables, with a perfect bluesy intro that, if were sustained, would make this the performance to beat. Weiss strikes sparks in parts but top billing goes to the orchestra at this point. Previn creates a better balance between orchestra and soloist – think of it as an evolving dialogues rather than series of non sequiturs – making the work seem much more like the ‘proper concerto’ Damrosch was looking for.
The ebullient third movement begins well enough – I have to admire Weiss’s quickfire delivery – but adroitness alone isn’t enough to keep this music motoring. Indeed, for all its felicities this performance is just too fitful for my tastes; it’s Previn who finds that elusive coherence and builds tension most effectively, the LSO playing as if to the manner born. I’ve not heard his recording with André Kostelanetz – the top choice in a recent edition of BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library – but if it’s half as good as his EMI one it must be very special indeed.
So, a valiant effort by Weiss and Falletta in the concerto, but in a strong field it’s just not in the first rank. What about the fillers? The Rhapsody, which grew from a movie interlude showing Manhattan skyscrapers under construction – finds Weiss and the band in fizzing form. This is a bracing work, inventive and irrepressible, and Weiss seems more relaxed here than he is in the concerto. Those big Broadway tunes are just thrilling and Falletta keeps everyone on their toes. As for the I Got Rhythm Variations – from Gershwin’s hit show, Girl Crazy – it makes for a toe-tapping coda. And Weiss just seems to get better and better, bringing plenty of soul and swagger to this catchiest of numbers.
Hey, two out of three ain’t bad, and if it weren’t for such strong competition I’d be happy to recommend this version of the concerto. The real star though is the band, who play with great gusto throughout. True, they may seem a little splashy under pressure, but that matters less when the music-making is as infectious as this. Ideally the recording could be more refined in the climaxes; that said, a degree of roughness is forgivable in such roisterous company.
A decent concerto, but the fillers steal the show.
Dan Morgan
A decent concerto, but the fillers steal the show.

see reviews by John Whitmore and Brian Reinhart