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George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Porgy, Preludes and Paris
Scenes from Porgy and Bess [18:58]
Diversions: I. Novelette & Love Walked In; II. Rialto Ripples/Love is Here to Stay [9:54]
A Suite of Preludes: I. Prelude No. 1/Stairway to Paradise; II. Prelude No.2/A Foggy Day in London Town; III. Prelude No.3/Someone to Watch over Me/The Man I Love [19:52]
An American in Paris Revisited with ‘By Strauss’ and ‘I Got Rhythm’ [15:06]
Piano à Deux
rec. 2018, St. Peter and Paul, Church Hanborough, UK
DIVINE ART DDA25183 [63:52]

Gershwin composed precious little music for solo piano or piano duet. The few important (published) works include the Three Preludes dating from 1926 and the George Gershwin's Song-book (1932) which are solo piano arrangements of 18 songs, ‘Merry Andrew’ and a few other odds and ends. There are several unpublished pieces. Clearly, there are two-piano arrangements of the Rhapsody in Blue, the Piano Concerto and An American in Paris. I am sure that here and there are other examples of Gershwin’s craft which have been transcribed for piano duet either by the composer or other arrangers, but that, I think, is about it.

The ‘flyer’ for this CD flags up that the purists (I am one) may frown (I didn’t) at the present arrangements by Piano à Deux, Linda Ang and Robert Stoodley. The justification is that Gershwin himself was well-known for arranging, sampling and ‘medleying’ both his own music and other Tin Pan Alley songs. So, just sit back and enjoy, and worry not a jot about protocol.

Scenes from Porgy and Bess is excellent. This is really a well-developed fantasy that re-presents not only the main melodies of this American masterpiece, but also ‘works in’ musical textures from the accompaniment and the chorus parts. As such, it is highly successful. The progress of the music is truly rhapsodic. Beginning with the ‘There’s a Boat dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York’ the music passes through several moods before coming to a beautifully contrived presentation of ‘Summertime’. Another point of repose is the ‘big’ duet between Porgy and Bess – ‘Bess, you is my woman now.’  Other melodies ‘worked in’ include ‘It ain’t necessarily so’, the up-tempo ‘Oh, I can’t sit down’ and ‘My Man’s gone now.’ The overall impression is almost Lisztian in its summarising of the entire opera plot in 18 minutes of well-thought-out arrangement.

Both Diversions combines a rarely-heard Gershwin ‘prelude’ with a well-known song. ‘Diversion I’ opens with ‘Novelette in Fourth’s’ written around 1919. This is followed by the chorus of ‘Love Walked In’. The second Diversion begins with ‘Rialto Ripples’. This segues into ‘Love is Here to Stay’ which soon leads to the main rag-time theme once more. The clever bit is the interlocking of themes. It seems to happen as if by magic. Remarkable.

I am a purist when it comes to the Preludes. I know that there are only three of them. Gershwin’s intention was to have written 24 in the tradition of Frederic Chopin’s op.28. Alas, they were never completed. What Piano à Deux have done is to couple each Prelude into a song. The songs include ‘Stairway to Paradise’ from the largely forgotten Broadway review George White’s Scandals, ‘A Foggy Day in London Town’ (A Damsel in Distress), ‘Someone to Watch over Me’ (Oh Kay!) and ‘The Man I Love’ (Lady, Be Good). I am not sure exactly how close to the original piano solo version of each Prelude this two-piano realisation is.  There certainly does seem to be a little bit of creative imagination, which is all to the good.

I enjoyed An American in Paris Revisited. However, I wish they had played the original tone-poem for piano duet; what they have done is to introduce ‘By Strauss’ and ‘I Got Rhythm’ - both derived from the wonderful 1954 film starring Gene Kelly, for good effect. Perhaps these two numbers could have made a third Diversion?

The presentation of this CD is outstanding. The liner notes explain the processes behind these arrangements and includes a good biography of the pianists. The CD cover features an iconic photograph of Gershwin at his piano. The recording reflects the vibrancy and subtlety of the music.

When listening to this CD, I have to swallow my pride and accept that the raison d’être of Piano à Deux is to divert. This is not meant to be a definitive performance of Gershwin’s music as originally written. It is not even a direct transcription of these works. This is a well-constructed ‘entertainment’, with lots of lovely musical clichés, technical wizardry and many subtle nods to the composer’s genius.

I have seen Linda Ang and Robert Stoodley perform aboard a cruise-ship and they present vivacious, sometimes comedic and always technically accomplished recitals. This CD explores some of this ‘show-biz’ feel and is certainly none the worse for that.

John France

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