An American Journey = GERSHWIN: Porgy and Bess Fantasy; O’CONNOR: Trio No. 1, “Poets and Prophets”; BERNSTEIN: West Side Story Suite – Eroica Trio – EMI

by | Oct 28, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

An American Journey = GERSHWIN: Porgy and Bess Fantasy; O’CONNOR: Trio No. 1, “Poets and Prophets”; BERNSTEIN: West Side Story Suite – Eroica Trio – EMI 07351, 56:19 *****:

The Eroica Trio has made some fine recordings over the years (since their 1991 debut), though I must admit that often I have shied away from some of their efforts because of the populist hype that EMI surrounds them with, geared it seems more towards the uninitiated than the seasoned collector. So when I saw this album my first reaction was “Ugh!”–what could I possibly want with piano trio arrangements of West Side Story and Porgy and Bess, let alone anything by Mark O’Connor, whose popularity has always baffled me somewhat as I find his music rather predictable and repetitive, even though usually very well played.

What a mistake I would have made if I had refused to review this disc! From the opening swoosh of the overture to Porgy, played with orchestral finesse and flurry by the Eroicans, this 15 minute fantasy is a wonder of superb taste and remarkably fluent arranging. For once a transcription of this music is completely engulfing and gripping, and the ladies play it like the ink was hot off Gershwin’s pen. The same thing holds true for the Bernstein; though we get only three straight up songs (“I Feel Pretty”, “Somewhere”, and “America”), they are all gems of performance, especially the first, where Anita’s song seldom gets the lilt and effortless floating quality so needed for the right sell, and so desired by the composer who used to complaint that the pit conductors blew through it too fast. Bravo!

And best of all, O’Connor finally convinces me with a trio of perfect proportions based on the life of the composer’s friend and American icon, Johnny Cash. It is tuneful, delicate, assertive, and downright foot-stomping in the best sense of the word, and O’Connor uses these musicians in a manner that reflects real piano trio writing, and not just a collection of any three instruments.

EMI’s sound is up front and very vibrant. My wife, hearing this disc from another room, commented on the superlative playing and how much she was enjoying it–you will too!

— Steven Ritter
 

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