GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue; Catfish Row–Symphonic Suite; Concerto in F; Rialto Ripples – Stefano Bollani, piano/Gewandhaus Orchestra /Riccardo Chailly – Decca 478 2739, 73:37 [Distr. by Universal] ****:
Recorded 28-30 January 2010, these Gershwin performances want to swing, especially in the jazz-based scores like Rhapsody in Blue, which employs the 1924 score by Ferde Grofe. Jazz pianist Stefano Bollani occasionally inserts some improvisation as was Gershwin’s wont, particularly in the ragtime episodes. The 1916 Rialto Ripples (arr. Ryden)–Gershwin was eighteen–utilizes rag and syncopated formulas to achieve a peppy effect, much in the style of a boulevardier Scott Joplin. Bollani contributes to the swagger and waggish bravura that often resembles a free improvisation from Fats Waller, although the orchestra part retains a slick “Broadway” feel.
The Catfish Row Symphonic Suite (1936) draws its melodies from Porgy and Bess, edited by Steven D. Bowen. Brash and percussive, the suite incorporates Bollani’s piano obbligato in a manner similar to Stravinsky’s neo-Classic Capriccio. The suite–as a Symphonic Picture edited by Bennett– received a fine reading in the classic Pittsburgh performance under Fritz Reiner. The writing takes on an academic cast when Gershwin writes counterpoint, a sound Leonard Bernstein would cultivate in his music for On the Waterfront. A sweet violin, woodwinds and strings intone a leisurely “Summertime.” A banjo and strings aided by spirited winds and suave strings tells us “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’.” “Bess, You is my Woman Now” has lulling pathos. The “Fugue” illustrates a fight between Porgy and Crown. “Hurricane” from Act II, Scene 2, opens with an English horn and soft strings. Then the hurricane winds pick up, allowing the Gewandhaus brass and tympani some artful display. The finale combines three identifiable songs, “Good morning’ brother,” “Sure to go to Heaven,” and “Lord, I’m on my way.” The skills at interweaving the various thematic strains mark Gershwin as a seasoned manipulator of symphonic means, and Chailly communicates a natural spontaneous sympathy for his music.
The Concerto in F (1925) demonstrated Gershwin’s skills in orchestration and color ensemble over his earlier Rhapsody in Blue (which was orchestrated by Grofe). The Decca miking captures the brushed cymbals and B-flat clarinets in gorgeous Technicolor, while pianist Bollani deftly trips out his part, fully aware of the Bargy, Levant, and Wild inscriptions with whom he contends. If anything, the performance as a whole streamlines Gershwin’s pulse and rhythms, a Classical rather than ardently sentimental reading. The sumptuous sounds find colorful complement in the accompanying booklet, which features interviews with the two principals and pictures of the two in front of a large portrait of Wilhelm Furtwaengler. Nicely done, this production.
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