Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


October 1998

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George GERSHWIN Fantasy for violin and orchestra on themes from Porgy and Bess; Three Preludes; Songs for violin and orchestra   Joshua Bell (violin) and the London SO conducted by John Williams  SONY SK 60659 [55:18]  


Crotchet (UK)
Soundstone (USA)

There are interesting film music connections here: the LSO is conducted by John "Star Wars/Jaws/Schindlers List etc" Williams; and the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra on Porgy and Bess, here receiving its world premiere recording, has been arranged by Alexander Courage (best known for writing the original Star Trek theme). On paper this might have seemed a good idea. But it does not work. This just is not Gershwin, too much zest and spontaneity has been drained and replaced by too much self-conscious concert violinistic mannerism, too much of the usual concert violinists's pyrotechnics. Bell is no jazz violinist - certainly no Stephane Grappelli. The Heifetz arrangements of Gershwin's Preludes for violin and piano are the most successful compositions on the disc and they are performed well enough by Bell and Williams but Porgy and Bess really suffers from this arrangement and performance (I only felt comfortable listening to the slower, more romantic "Bess, you is my woman now" and "Oh Bess, where is my Bess?" sections.) The seven song arrangements fare a little better but they are arrangements, some quite radical, not pure Gershwin. To be fair some are quite nicely fashioned -but clearly created to show off Bell's virtuosity. Again it is the more schmaltzy romantic songs that fare best:"Embraceable You" and "Love is Here to Stay" for instance. The best track on the whole CD is the very clever integration of a piano roll of Gershwin himself playing his "Sweet and Low-down" with Bell and the orchestra.

Ian Lace

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