- George Gershwin - American Success Story [Recommended Recordings]
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George Gershwin
Recommended Recordings

(Fazil Say, piano; New York Philharmonic; Kurt Masur, conductor)
Fazil Say's take on the music of George Gershwin is not for the faint of heart, but it is engrossing. On Gershwin's piano miniatures, Say proves he can improvise as well as any jazz musician, and on the two longer works--"Rhapsody in Blue" and "I Got Rhythm Variations"--the pianist and the New York Philharmonic breathe new life into these warhorses. His side-by-side takes of "Summertime"--one reflective, one dizzying--are a highlight.

Girl Crazy (Nonesuch)
(Original Cast)
Widely known for its (very loose) 1943 Hollywood adaptation with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, this musical is among the Gershwins' very best. Originally a star vehicle for Bert Lahr, the original 1930 production also featured Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman. This new complete recording includes pros like Lorna Luft, Judy Blazer, Vicki Lewis, and David Carroll, and all of them do a bang-up job. The book is a mere pretext: most of the songs are self-contained and could be used in just about any story, and many quickly became classics ("Embraceable You," "But Not for Me," "I Got Rhythm," "Bidin' My Time.") The upbeat score--the original pit orchestra included Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, and Benny Goodman--sees George Gershwin in complete sync with his jazz-crazed times. There's barely a wrinkle on this 70-year-old show. (review by Elisabeth Vincentelli)

Porgy and Bess
(Gregg Baker, Harolyn Blackwell, et al; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra; Simon Rattle, conductor)
An uncut Porgy & Bess may well be too long in the theater. On CD, though, you can play one act at a time, letting Gershwin's wide-eyed, inexhaustibly inventive score run its course at leisure in the comforts of your rumpus room. Some listeners might find Sir Simon Rattle's tempos on the draggy side, but he's got Gershwin's syncopated idiom down cold. Similarly, the singers fuse Gershwin's prodigious musical demands with effortless, characterful diction more succesfully than in other recordings, abetted by engineering that is both atmospheric and richly detailed. Full texts and excellent annotations round off this stellar achievement based on the highly acclaimed 1989 Glyndebourne Opera production. (review by Jed Distler)

Rhapsody in Blue, American in Paris
(New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein)
This is a disc for the ages: here is American music, performed with mid-century flair, a moment never to be recaptured. Bernstein had an unparalleled feel for Rhapsody in Blue, and in this recording he brought it all home, doing full justice to the still-fresh, racy, moody, spontaneous, evocative score. His performance of the solo has a smoky, sultry jazziness to it, along with a brash exuberance; there is touching tenderness in the lullaby, a riveting dynamism in the fast pages. As constituted for this recording, the Columbia Symphony consisted of some superb pickup players. An American in Paris gets a wonderfully energetic and bracing performance, one that strikes a deft balance between intimacy and grandeur. The old New York Philharmonic incandescence comes through in every bar. The account of Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite is still the finest in the catalog. The sound has excellent presence and impact, although in the recording of the Rhapsody the violins lack bite, there is breakup in the extreme high range, and one get the sensation of "hole in the center" stereo. (review by Ted Libbey)


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