Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


George GERSHWIN Porgy & Bess (Highlights) Blue Monday (original version) Gregg Baker, Harolyn Blackwell, Angela Brown, William Henry Caldwell, Cab Calloway, Lawrence Craig, Marquita Lister, Kirk Walker, Thomas Young, Central State University Chorus, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel  

  TELARC CD-80434 [71:23]  

The special attraction of this CD is not so much Porgy and Bess but the first recording of the original version of Blue Monday the one-act opera that Gershwin composed in 1922 for the George White Scandals of that year - it was withdrawn because of the tragic nature of the plot and its unhappy ending in which the heroine shoots her lover. Maestro Kunzel’s diligent searchings found the original Gershwin manuscript and the original orchestration by Will Vodery (a successful black songwriter/arranger who had befriended the teen-aged Gershwin in his Tin Pan Alley days). Although this 24 minute early opera about "love, hate, passion, jealousy" and a "woman’s intuition gone wrong", does not have the immediate appeal of Porgy... to which it clearly points, there is plenty of drama and exuberance and there are some outstanding numbers such as Mike’s moaning aria about the trials and tribulations of Monday, "Monday Blues" with its highlighted banjo accompaniment, Joe’s aria anticipating seeing his mother again away in the south, Violet’s aria "Has One of You Seen My Joe?" and the high-spirited dance music. This part of the CD is self-recommending to all Gershwin admirers

The Porgy and Bess excerpts do not fare so well. On the plus side we have some material which Gershwin (wisely) rejected from Act III including a short lullaby for Bess and Serena, "Lonely Boy", and some newly discovered alternative dialogue for the opening of Act III. Personally, I cannot see that they are at all consequential. I really do urge readers to listen to the complete opera rather than settle for bleeding chunks like these. Most of the main numbers are included here but there are some important ommissions like the Buzzard Song and Sportin’ Life’s "There’s a Boat Leavin’ Soon for New York." Cab Calloway sings "It Ain’t Necessarily So" in a very individualistic - almost grotesquely mannered style drawing far too much attention to himself. The other singers are very good at best and always adequate but the whole production feels laboured and too careful - the sheer enjoyment and emotional involvement that is found in the classic Sony reissue reviewed above is missing.

Blue Monday        Porgy and Bess    

Ian Lace

Next month’s FILM MUSIC ON THE WEB review pages will carry a review of the EMI recording of Porgy and Bess by Sir Simon Rattle with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Willard White as Porgy and Cynthia Haymon as Bess based on the highly acclaimed 1986 Glyndebourne Festival stage production.

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