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George GERSHWIN (1898–1937)
The Gershwin Moment
Rhapsody in Blue (jazz band version, orch. Ferde Grofé, 1924) [17.34]
Piano Concerto in F (1925) [33.32]
Summertime [5.35]
Earl WILD (1915–2010)
from Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin for solo piano: Somebody Loves Me [3.32]; I Got Rhythm [2.23]; Embraceable You [3.35]
Oscar LEVANT (1906–1972)
Blame it on my Youth, for solo piano and vibraphone [7.18]
Kirill Gerstein (piano)
Storm Large (vocalist)
Scott Andrews (clarinet solo ‘Rhapsody in Blue’)
Gary Burton (vibraphone solo ‘Blame it on my Youth’)
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra/David Robertson
rec. live, April 2017 Powell Hall, St. Louis (Rhapsody, Concerto, Etudes); May 2014 Gilmore Festival, Williams Theatre, Kalamazoo (Summertime); March 2012 Berklee Performance Center, Boston (Levant), USA
MYRIOS MYR022 [73.45]

Titled The Gershwin Moment this album of George Gershwin works features the outstanding playing of Kirill Gerstein, the Russian/American pianist, all captured in live performance.

One of the greatest popular song writers of the twentieth century Gershwin did write several works for the concert stage. The main works on the album are the enduringly popular Rhapsody in Blue in the jazz band version and its successor the Piano Concerto both quintessential examples of American classical fused with a jazz idiom with Gerstein accompanied by St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson. Russian born Gerstein first came across jazz thanks to his parent’s L.P. collection and aged fourteen was invited by vibraphone soloist Gary Burton to study jazz piano at Berklee College of Music, Boston. After Berklee, Gerstein chose to follow the classical music route to the concert-stage but the love of jazz has never deserted him.

It was bandleader Paul Whiteman who commissioned Gershwin to write a concerto-like work suitable for an all-jazz concert. In response Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue in 1924 using the provisional title of ‘American Rhapsody’ with composer Ferde Grofé orchestrating the single movement score into the version for jazz band that Gerstein plays here. Scott Andrews’ clarinet solo provides a marvellous start to a work which is given a sparkling and idiosyncratic performance by Gerstein, who although he uses his own embellishments never resorts to the raucous or brash. Written in 1926 the Piano Concerto in F was a commission from conductor Walter Damrosch who has attended the premiere of Rhapsody in Blue. Cast in three movements, the ambitious score is nearer to the traditional concerto form than the jazz inspired Rhapsody in Blue. This is an irresistible performance from Gerstein that feels fresh and alive, being fully attuned to the mood of the piece. I was interested to read that Gerstein has paired the Schoenberg Piano Concerto with Rhapsody in Blue in a concert programmes. These are marvellously vibrant performances of Rhapsody in Blue and the Piano Concerto from Gerstein and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson, which I am certain to return to. Nevertheless, with Rhapsody in Blue it is hard to ignore the now classic 1959 New York recording from soloist Leonard Bernstein conducting, from the piano, the Columbia Symphony Orchestra on Sony and in the Piano Concerto the exhilarating 1971 Abbey Road account from André Previn who is both piano soloist and conductor of London Symphony Orchestra on EMI.

Singer Storm Large described on her website as an “American renaissance woman and vocal superstar” here performs Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ one of the best loved songs song from the Great American Songbook. Recorded in concert at Williams Theatre, Kalamazoo, Large performs ‘Summertime’ with aplomb, making a glorious sound, rich and earthy with marvellous diction. The solo piano works, ideal encore pieces, Earl Wild’s ‘Virtuoso Etudes’ after Gershwin and Oscar Levant’s ‘Blame it on my Youth’ for piano and vibraphone (played by Gary Burton) are given a captivating bluesy feel by Gerstein which adds to the jazz elements of the writing.

The recordings from live concerts at Powell Hall, St. Louis; Williams Theatre, Kalamazoo and Berklee Performance Center, Boston have a consistent sound quality being clear and well balanced. After the conclusion of each of the works loud applause has been retained. Written by Joseph Horowitz the booklet essay ‘Kirill Gerstein and the Gershwin Moment’ is simply first class.

Michael Cookson

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