GEORGE GERSHWIN: “The Original Manuscripts” – Blue Monday; Rhapsody in Blue; Preludes; Miniatures (Songs Without Words) – Alicia Zizzo, piano – MSR Classics

by | Sep 5, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

GEORGE GERSHWIN: “The Original Manuscripts” – Blue Monday; Rhapsody in Blue; Preludes; Miniatures (Songs Without Words) – Alicia Zizzo, piano – MSR Classics MS 1127, 58:53 *****: [Distrib. by Albany]

All these Gershwin manuscripts were edited by Dr. Zizzo, who writes in the notes that since the composer had an incomplete high school education and no conservatory training, he didn’t dispute editors and publishers who took liberties with his scores. After all, he had to have both Blue Monday and Rhapsody in Blue orchestrated by others. Gershwin’s original manuscripts have not been given their due, but Dr. Zizzo is doing her part to improve on that.

Gershwin’s first attempt to fuse classical music with early jazz was his 20-minute operetta  of 1922, Blue Monday.  It’s somewhat corny plot was a variation on the Frankie & Johnny idea, but it paved the way for Gershwin’s later masterpiece Porgy and Bess. It was after conducting Blue Monday that Ferde Grofe asked Gershwin to composer a piece for piano and orchestra which became the famous Rhapsody in Blue. The operetta has been recorded, and an edited piano-only version was published, but Alica Zizzo plays the complex and tuneful piece from its original manuscript.

The three Gershwin Preludes have been much played in their original piano versions, and in innumerable transcriptions for various instruments. (I once played them in a recital in college.) Who knew that Gershwin – inspired by his main influence, Chopin – originally planned to created a parallel set of preludes to Chopin’s 24 (which had been in turn inspired by Bach’s)?  He was going to dub it The Melting Pot.  In his premiere performance of 1926 Gershwin played not three but five preludes. One was later used as a song and another became the opening of the last movement of his Concerto in F.  Zizzo gives us eight separate tracks here, though some are as short as :27. I never realized that the second and third Preludes had special titles: Blue Lullaby and Spanish Prelude, respectively.

Her performance of the restored Rhapsody in Blue from Gershwin’s original manuscript is most edifying. The publisher had originally deleted over 50 measures in the piano part with orchestra and 88 bars in the solo piano version, plus there were many other cuts.  The restored version runs 17 1/2 minutes, longer than any other recording of Rhapsody in Blue.

The piano sound is excellent and the notes most informative. Every fan of one of America’s greatest composers will want to have this CD.

 – John Sunier

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