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George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Simon Tedeschi – The Gershwin Collection
Simon Tedeschi (piano)
James Morrison (trumpet), Sarah McKenzie (vocals)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Northey
rec. various locations, 2007-13
ABC CLASSICS 481 1872 [62:09 + 69:07]

Now this is one GG that’s always worth a flutter, which is why I was delighted when MWI editor Rob Barnett sent me this set for review. It seems ABC Classics have taken the two separate issues – Gershwin & Me (481 0032) and Gershwin Take Two (481 0629) – and reissued them in a slipcase with the title Simon Tedeschi – The Gershwin Collection. It may not be the most elegant repackaging, but it is a cost-effective way of marketing the discs at a time when global CD sales are under such pressure. Jonathan Woolf was reasonably positive about Gershwin & Me, although he did say this is ‘Tedeschi’s Gershwin’.

Frankly I don’t see that as a drawback, for Tedeschi has a winning way with this music; after all, he’s been playing Gershwin since he was 12. CD1 gets off to a spirited start with the early rag Rialto Ripples, which Tedeschi plays with irresistible zest. The piano sound may be upfront, but it’s commendably crisp and clear. It’s certainly wide-ranging, for it copes well with the piston-like bass pounding that underpins the first of the three Preludes.

Yes, Tedeschi does pause for effect, and dynamic contrasts are sometimes exaggerated, but when the music is played with such obvious affection it seems churlish to complain. He has a strong rhythmic sense, so important in this repertoire, and he doesn’t flinch or fudge in the more demanding passages of the third Prelude. The Gershwin evergreens, such as Someone to Watch Over Me – given here in a surprisingly effective arrangement by the jazz pianist and composer Keith Jarrett – seem as wistful as ever; indeed, there’s a marvellous sense of eavesdropping, of catching our pianist at his most relaxed and reflective. Lovely.

On the whole these arrangements are most enjoyable; Percy Grainger’s As Love Walked In has a warmth and generosity of spirit that Tedeschi captures so well; in particular those Gottschalk-like trills are beautifully done. This is a congenial and communicative recital in which final notes and flourishes are allowed to fade into an appreciative silence. I do like Tedeschi’s catchy rendition of Oh, Lady Be Good! and his forthright, jammin’ way with Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Pianist-arranger Dave Grusin’s take on Nice Work If You Can Get It may not be as evocative as the others here, but it’s still very engaging.

No such qualms about Tedeschi’s two Porgy arrangements. Summertime speaks of contentment and gentle languor, and I Loves You Porgy will surely bring a mist to the eye; it did to mine. Really, Tedeschi is a most insidious artist, adept at bypassing one’s defences with a sudden harmonic twist or a subtle shift of rhythm. Speaking of the latter Tedeschi gives a bracing, nicely articulated account of Gershwin’s signature piece, Rhapsody in Blue. He and the Queensland Symphony under Benjamin Northey do Ferde Grofé’s orchestration proud; some of the jaunty – nay, wicked – playing from this band left me grinning like the village idiot. What a riotous end to this delightful disc.

No question, Tedeschi is a showman, and some may feel his flamboyance gets in the way of the music; that said, anyone who’s so alive to the shape and idiom of these pieces, to the melting pot from which they spring, deserves respect. And while the second CD is a tad bitty I hoped it would give as much pleasure as the first. The recorded sound is closer – and slightly harder – than before, but it’s still perfectly decent. As expected the Prelude is deftly pointed and nicely sprung, and the carousel of numbers that follow are essayed with a familiar blend of brio and brilliance.

Yes, there is a bit of bluster – the Jazzbo Brown Blues is somewhat overheated – but then trumpeter James Morrison cools things down with his breezy accompaniment to Nice Work If You Can Get It. He’s certainly soulful in Prelude (Melody No. 17), although by now I’d decided to reduce the volume by a few notches. I must say I find the give and glow of the first CD more appealing, but I sense those were very special sessions. Tedeschi is gentler in the lovely Three-Quarter Blues, and the posthumously published Impromptu in Two Keys is a delight.

If your toes aren’t all tapped out yet they’ll certainly respond to Clap Yo’ Hands from Oh, Kay! Incidentally, that musical is based on a book co-authored by another of Tedeschi’s idols, P. G. Wodehouse. Sarah McKenzie adds variety to the programme with her mellow, if not very memorable, renditions of Embraceable You, from Girl Crazy, and the iconic Let's Call The Whole Thing Off, from Shall We Dance. Tedeschi takes centre stage again with what seems to be his signature piece too, Rhapsody in Blue. This time he plays the solo-piano version. Even without Grofé’s high-octane orchestration it’s a terrific piece, played here with all the insight and imagination I’ve come to expect from this fine pianist.

Given the choice I’d save the first disc from a burning building, for it’s the most satisfying of the two. Not only is it pleasingly programmed – and better recorded – it also has that knockout performance of the Rhapsody. It's worth noting that at the time of writing – August 2015 – the discs were still available separately, so you do have a choice here.

Simon Tedeschi romps home in this repertoire; disc one is my favourite, though.

Dan Morgan

Previous review (original release of CD1): Jonathan Woolf

Contents list
CD1 – Gershwin & Me [62:09]
Rialto Ripples (with Will Donaldson) [2:29]
Three Preludes [7:34]
Someone to Watch Over Me (arr. Keith Jarrett) [6:26]
Love Walked In (arr. Percy Grainger) [4:47]
The Man I Love (arr. Grainger) [4:13]
’S Wonderful (arr. Gershwin) [1:06]
Oh, Lady Be Good! (arr. Gershwin) [1:16]
Strike Up the Band (arr. Gershwin) [0:59]
Nice Work If You Can Get It (arr. Dave Grusin) [4:16]
Summertime (arr. Tedeschi) [5:47]
I Loves You Porgy (arr. Tedeschi) [3:15]
*Rhapsody In Blue (arr. Ferde Grofé) [18:47]
rec. 18-19 September 2012, Eugene Goossens Hall of ABC’s Ultimo Centre, Sydney *live, 30 September 2007, Concert Hall of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane
(Originally released on ABC CLASSICS 481 0032)

CD2 – Gershwin Take Two [69:07]
Promenade (Walking the Dog) [3:04]
Prelude (Novelette in Fourths) [2:56]
Sweet and Low-Down (from Tip-Toes) [2:00]
Do-Do-Do (from Oh, Kay!) [1:20]
Jazzbo Brown Blues (from Porgy and Bess) [1:45]
Nice Work If You Can Get It (from A Damsel in Distress) [5:12]
Prelude (Melody No. 17) [3:10]
Merry Andrew [1:59]
Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away) (from Show Girl) [2:41]
Three-Quarter Blues [2:11]
Impromptu in Two Keys [1:35]
My One and Only (from Funny Face) [1:14]
I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise (from George White's Scandals of 1922) [0:47]
Do It Again (from The French Doll) [2:07]
Clap Yo' Hands (from Oh, Kay!) [0:56]
Nobody But You (from La-La-Lucille!) [1:16]
Prelude (Rubato) [1:39]
Who Cares? (So Long As You Care for Me) (from Of Thee I Sing) [1:33]
Embraceable You (from Girl Crazy) [7:13]
Let's Call The Whole Thing Off (from Shall We Dance) [6:15]
Rhapsody in Blue (solo piano) [18:14]
rec. 28 August, 16-18 September 2013, Eugene Goossens Hall of ABC’s Ultimo Centre, Sydney
(Originally released on ABC CLASSICS 481 0629)



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