An Essential Gershwin Collection, Despite Variable Sound
Jeffrey Lipscomb | Sacramento, CA United States | 05/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"That Gershwin (1896-1937) died so young from a malignant brain tumor was a tragic loss to the world of music. Like Mozart and Schubert, who also died while still in their 30's, Gershwin was just hitting his stride at the time of his death. Unlike Mozart, he wrote no symphonies or chamber music, but like Schubert, he was one of the greatest song writers the world has ever known. And as the Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F clearly demonstrate, Gershwin was probably the greatest "cross-over" artist in American history.
This 2-disc Pearl CD set, as Amazon editorial reviewer Jed Distler points out, is an essential purchase for anyone who loves Gershwin's music. Pearl adheres to an "as is" philosophy of transferring old 78 rpm records to CD. This results in very immediate sound, but a lot of shellac noise comes along with it. With a little twiddling of your treble knob, these performances are very listenable and thoroughly enjoyable.
To my mind, just about everything here falls into the category of "definitive" performance. The 1924 Rhapsody In Blue has more joy and exhilaration than any other recording made (and Gershwin's piano playing is heard more clearly than in the 1927 electrical re-make, fine as it is). It was recorded just four months after the world premiere at Aeolian Hall in New York City. What an event that must have been! The audience included such luminaries as Rachmaninov, Kreisler & Sousa. When the performance was finished, the audience roared its approval with a standing ovation that lasted 20 MINUTES!
The songs with Fred Astaire and his sister Adele are utterly delightful, and Gershwin's solo piano playing strikes me as a far truer representation of his art than his notoriously unreliable piano rolls available elsewhere. "An American in Paris," conducted by Gershwin's boyhood chum Nathaniel Shilkret, is irresistable (Gershwin even plays the small parts for piano & celesta, and the car horns he brought back from Paris are used here).
The original 1935 "Porgy and Bess" excerpts, conducted by Alexander Smallens, are wonderful. Jepson is excellent, but the real star here is Lawrence Tibbett, to my taste the greatest operatic baritone America has ever produced. His enormous charm is complemented by fabulous diction - he's one of the very few "classical" singers whose every word is clearly understandable.
Gershwin never recorded a complete Concerto in F. For the best-ever version of that, you have to buy the Roy Bargas/Bix Beiderbecke/Paul Whiteman account on a Pearl CD called "Gershwin and Grofe," which also has the first-ever recordings of Grofe's Grand Canyon & Mississippi Suites (a lot of fun!). But here we get to hear the ONLY CD account of Gershwin himself playing just the 2nd mvt. from a 1933 Rudy Valle Show radio broadcast. It's fascinating and frustrating at the same time: a tantalizing fragment of what must have been a glorious interpretation.
The Concerto in F excerpt is UNIQUE to this CD - which makes it a MANDATORY purchase for Gershwin lovers. The Rhapsody (both versions), American in Paris, and the Porgy selections are also on Sony's "Historic Gershwin Recordings" in somewhat smoother transfers. The aforementioned Whiteman-conducted Concerto in F is also on a Sony CD called "From Gershwin's Time" (sadly, it's out of print - see my review).
CDs seem to have an alarmingly short shelf life these days, so grab this wonderful set while it's still available.
Very Highly Recommended."
The first disc especially is fantastic
Jeffrey Lipscomb | 04/03/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For Gershwin collectors, the sides with the Astaires are essential. The Whiteman Rhapsody is also quite good. Some of the later material does NOT feature Gershwin on piano and has the feeling of filler. Still, I've gotten a lot of enjoyment from this collection."