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Levant Plays Gershwin
George Gershwin, Eugene Ormandy, André Kostelanetz
Levant Plays Gershwin
Genres: Jazz, Classical
  •  Track Listings (9) - Disc #1


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Gershwin's Second Self
ADB | Colorado Springs, CO United States | 03/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Will there ever again be a Gershwin interpreter like Oscar Levant?

I doubt it. A close acquaintance of the composer, Levant had Gershwin's music in his veins--and he also had the verve and the personality to bring it to life. In the late 1940s, when these recordings were made, Levant was something like the late composer's representative on earth.

This disc belongs in the collections of every Gershwin fan and every fan of American concert music. Yes, the sound on these recordings is not ideal by contemporary standards, and the performance of the famous Rhapsody in Blue is less than definitive because of cuts in the score amounting to about three minutes of music. But the rhythmic flair exhibited in certain passages makes this recording essential, even if it should be supplemented by an uncut performance with modern sound (I'd recommended Michael Tilson Thomas's version, which also resurrects Ferde Grofe's original jazz band orchestration--it's Grofe's orchestral version that Levant plays).

These performances of the Second Rhapsody and the "I Got Rhythm" Variations (neither usually regarded quite a first-rank Gershwin work) benefit from the presence of another legendary figure in American music, composer/conductor Morton Gould. But it's the matchless interpretations of the Piano Concerto in F and the Three Preludes that, for me at least, place this disc among the truly outstanding recordings of American music. The Concerto--an inspired work and the first one orchestrated by Gershwin himself--is thrillingly projected and overshadows all competition I've yet heard, both on recordings and live. Likewise, Levant's interpretation of the Preludes is so convincing and so deeply impressed on my consciousness that all other pianists' tempi, dynamics, and attacks seem "wrong" to me. What a great little suite these preludes make (fast-slow blues-fast), almost like a perfect little sonatina.

Endnote: Interestingly enough, Gershwin once contemplated writing a whole set of 24 preludes, a la Chopin, to be called The Melting Pot. Too bad he never completed this project. Two of the unpublished preludes, however, were combined by Samuel Dushkin into a piece called Short Story, which has been recorded for piano solo by Tilson Thomas on the same disc I mentioned above.
Oscar understood Gershwin's music as Gershwin did, himself. | California | 12/08/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)

"12/07/98 My mother told me that her favorite pianist was, not Horowitz nor Rubinstein, but, believe it or not, Oscar Levant. In fact, Levant was a BIGGER draw than both formerly mentioned masters. His main problem was a series of cancellations, which eventually got him into big trouble with James Petrillo, president of the musicians union. I first became acquainted with Levant, accidentally, on some old 78rpm recordings of Gershwin's Concerto in F. I was absolutely captivated by it, despite its inferrior sound quality. I must have played it a thousand times. That's when I started asking my mother questions about this amazing pianist. Levant was a drug addict, and had several very severe mental "hang ups." He wouldn't allow lemons in the house, or any where near him, for that matter. He had several rituals that he had to perform in order to get himself through the day. He had a photographic memory, yet he claimed to be an amnesiac. He had a VERY popular TV show, which he managed to keep successful despite being doped up and in a stupor much of the time. Levant was married twice. His 2nd wife,June Gale, was a talented dancer / entertainer. And she was extremely beautiful. She went through HELL for her husband for many years. On one occasion, she saved his precious hands, when Levant was thrown into a dungeon, and he began banging his fists on the iron bars to get out. When Levant joked about appearing in white tie & straightjacket, he wasn't joking. He actually was taken out of the house, into an ambulance, in a straightjacket. Levant did, however, use too much pedel, and was not academic as to tempo, etc. However, he had Gershwin in his blood. I liked Andre Previn's Gershwin interpretation. I also liked Mitch Miller's, who also knew Gershwin. But nobody can fill the Gershwin piano bench as an Oscar Levant. Oscar, wherever you are, you were simply AMAZING. I hate your liberal political views. But, I am absolutely CRAZY about your playing, not only of Gershwin, but of EVERYTHING else. You added SPARK to classical musical."
George and Oscar: Bliss
ellafan | MI | 07/12/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"No matter how many times I hear Mr.Levant play "Concerto in F," I get goosebumps.No one can play it like Mr.Levant. Somehow,knowing that his frail mental stability was always a factor in everything he did in life, makes his recording of the Concerto and Rhapsody in Blue even more breathtaking.Just listen to the passion and fire he put into his playing,all the while chasing his demons.This (lp) never left the turntable for a day when I was a little kid,and I loved watching him on the Tonight Show. I loved him.I love his talent and bravery.There will never be another Oscar.
Get this CD."