GERSHWIN: An American in Paris; Novelette in Fourths; Melody No. 17 & Sleepless Night; Rubato; Suite from Porgy and Bess; Second Rhapsody – Dorothy Lewis-Griffith, piano – Etcetera KTC 1419, 72:00 [Distr. by Codaex] ****:
Dorothy Lewis-Griffith extends her fascination with the music of George Gershwin, building via piano transcriptions upon her 1994 album George Gershwin: A Piano Solo Album (KTC 1176) for this same Etcetera label. Edward Jablonski, a biographer of Gershwin, presented Ms. Lewis-Griffith with unpublished manuscripts of three Gershwin Preludes, including the unfinished Novelette in Fourths, which Gershwin himself rounded out on a piano roll performance, whose final 16 bars the artist has utilized for her inscription. Melody No. 17 and Sleepless Night are variants of one another: Kay Swift arranged and renamed the former as the latter, and Lewis-Griffith performs both as published.
The symphonic poem An American in Paris works well on the keyboard, as if Oscar Levant were the kitten on the keys for the joyous romp through The City of Light. Taxicabs and boulevard hawkers mix with the magical colors of burgeoning romance. Since no piano transcription of the score pre-exists, pianist Lewis-Griffith made her own adjustments. We might miss the bluesy trumpets and lavish strings, but the essence of Paris remains: “We’ll always have Paris,” like Bogart says to Bergman in Casablanca.
The Novelette in Fourths is a true ragtime piece, syncopated and happy. Melody No. 17 reminds one of the chords for the song, “The Man I Love.” Most of the work is upper register, with some dreamy sequences in modal harmony. The bluesy feeling proceeds in plainchant over dry chords, like an improvisation. Rubato is a brief work, a collection of broken chords that begins to spin out a walking melody that Fred Astaire might embody. Then it just stops.
The nine-movement suite for piano based on the opera Porgy and Bess opens with “Summertime” and proceeds less by musical chronology than by the pianist’s personal affections. The piano reduction of “My Man’s Gone Now” seems to point up Leonard Bernstein’s debts, especially in his music for On the Waterfront, to Gershwin. A little fugato breaks into “I Got Plenty O’ Nothin’” in the style of a stride or Gottschalk etude.
The big piece, “Bess You is My Woman Now,” plays as an extended blues ballad, a concertante work of considerable girth. “It Ain’t Necessarily So” swings, else it wouldn’t mean a thing. Love and adventure mark the last four songs: “I Loves You, Porgy”; “Clara”; “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’”; and “Oh, Where’s My Bess.” Alternately introspective and impressionistic, there are chords that seem to derive, as in “Clara,” straight from Debussy. Honky-tonk sonorities inundate “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’,” bright with the New York bustle. Both Porgy and Gershwin have won the right to sing the blues, so “Oh, Where’s My Bess” becomes Everyman’s lament for a lost dream.
In 1930 Gershwin made a frustrating sojourn to Hollywood, which used precious little of his talents for a film called Delicious. On his return to New York, Gershwin adapted discards from his material into a concerted piece he entitled Rhapsody in Rivets (1931).
Less commercially successful than Rhapsody in Blue, the fifteen-minute work takes its initial theme and treats it to variation technique and modal harmony adapted from Ravel. Its lean melos and chromatically rich texture now compels more critical acclaim than it received after its premier with Koussevitzky and the composer at the keyboard. Piano sound, courtesy of engineer Tatyana Liberman, casts a resonant but mellow patina on the percussive nature of Gershwin’s jazz forms.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich