MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing from

George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Porgy and Bess (1935) – highlights
Bess / Clara / Serena / Choir Soli – Angel Blue (soprano); Porgy – Lester Lynch (baritone); Sportin’ Life – Chauncey Packer (tenor); Crown / Jake / Choir Soli – Kevin Short (bass-baritone); Maria / Choir Soli – Alexandria Crichlow (soprano); Mingo / Choir Soli – Darrin Scott (tenor)
Morgan State University Choir
The Philadelphia Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. live March 2020, Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia. DSD
Texts included
PENTATONE PTC5186883 SACD [67:01]

The performances from which this disc stems were the last concerts which The Philadelphia Orchestra gave in front of a live audience in 2020 before the Covid emergency curtailed concert life in the USA and elsewhere.

I must admit I was in two minds about asking to review a disc of highlights from Gershwin’s ‘Folk Opera’; after all, in Porgy and Bess the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. However, while this Philadelphia concert performance presents all the ‘plums’ from the opera, it offers rather more than that. Yes, the highlights are indeed here, but they’ve been skilfully stitched together so as to give the listener most of the key elements of the opera’s narrative.

The Philadelphia performances were cast from strength, using several soloists with significant experience of the opera. A few years ago, I greatly admired a video recording of the San Francisco Opera’s 2009 production in which I was very taken with Chauncey Packer’s flamboyant performance as the chancer, Sportin’ Life. I was delighted to find that he reprises the role here, and he’s just as good. In that production Lester Lynch was a malevolent Crown; here, he steps up to the title role. The soprano Angel Blue took the part of Clara in San Francisco. She sings Clara here too, as well as Serena. Crucially, she came to these concerts fresh from singing the role of Bess to great acclaim at The Metropolitan Opera in the fall of 2019. Those performances, opposite the Porgy of Eric Owens, have been preserved on CD in a recording of the complete opera, conducted by David Robertson, on The Met’s own label.

Angel Blue is marvellous in her various roles. Because she covers several roles, we get to hear her sing ‘Summertime’ (as Clara). It’s a wonderful, sultry performance. A little later she’s just as involving as Serena, grieving for Robbins in ‘My man’s gone now’. Here, her singing is intense and full-throated; it’s a terrific performance. But most of her contributions are as Bess. She’s simply fabulous in ‘Bess, you is my woman now’, the top of her voice especially refulgent – and Lester Lynch’s Porgy is an admirable partner in this duet. Later, she brings great intensity to the confrontation with Crown and then her final scene with Porgy culminates in an ardently expressive ‘I loves you, Porgy’.

Lester Lynch is a notable presence as Porgy. His first big number is ‘I got plenty o’ nuttin’’ and it’s immediately obvious from the strong, vibrant way he sings that Porgy is a good man. He’s ideally matched with Angel Blue in their duets – his ample, rich, mahogany-toned voice is an excellent foil for her. Right at the end, after his disappointments, he leads a hopeful, upbeat ‘Oh Lawd, I’m on my way’. I’d like to hear him sing the full role one day.

Chauncey Packer gives a cracking performance as Sportin’ Life, reminding me in these excerpts how much I enjoyed his assumption of the role in the San Francisco production. There’s an ideal edge to his voice and he’s every bit the cynical, streetwise chancer, as he shows in spades when he tries to tempt Bess (‘Lo Bess, goin’ to picnic?’). His rendition of ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ is superb; the cynicism is right on the nail and Packer’s exhibitionism is just what’s wanted. His strutting account of ‘There’s a boat dat’s leavin’ soon for New York’ caps a vibrant contribution.

The smaller roles are all strongly cast, using a handful of singers. Kevin Short gives a punchy account of Jake’s ‘A woman is a sometime thing’ and later he returns as Crown, bringing an ideal amount of jealous menace to that part. Alexandria Crichlow is suitably sassy as Maria, while Darrin Scott puts across the small elements of Mingo’s role very well.

The Morgan State University Choir makes a fine contribution. They bring real vitality to ‘Oh, I can’t sit down’, getting everybody’s toes tapping. Towards the end their singing in ‘Clara, Clara – Jesus is walkin’ on de water’ is wonderfully expressive.

It’s no surprise to find that the Philadelphia Orchestra plays with terrific incisiveness, right from the razor-sharp opening. They’re clearly galvanised by Marin Alsop who conducts with flair and evident empathy for the music.

The recording was made by Mark Donahue and Dirk Sobotka of Soundmirror Inc. That organisation is responsible for many of the very finest recordings to come out of the USA in recent years. Here, the engineers have captured the music-making in sound that has all the presence and impact that the music needs. The sound is ideal for the music. I should say that even though this is a live recording there is no evidence of the presence of an audience, even when listening through headphones. I bet there was a lot of applause at the concerts but this has been skilfully edited out. Pentatone’s documentation is excellent; there’s a good essay about the opera by Lina Gonzalez-Granados, who is the Philadelphia Orchestra’s current Conducting Fellow, and the sung texts are provided. The whole booklet is handsomely produced.

If you want a recording of just the highlights from Porgy and Bess then this release includes all the ‘plums’ – and more - from Gershwin’s great score in a performance and recording that pack a punch. I already have several complete recordings of Porgy and Bess in my collection but this SACD has made me keen to acquire the Met’s own-label CDs of the opera so that I can hear Angel Blue in the full role of Bess.

John Quinn

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing